Unlike in previous years, many World Water Day events have been cancelled or postponed this year due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The theme for World Water Day 2020 – Water and Climate Change – has been conscientiously chosen to timely reflect the impact of climate change on water resources and how the two are inextricably linked.
Water availability has become less predictable over the past decade due to global warming. In some regions, droughts are exacerbating water scarcity, thereby affecting people and industrial productivity.
Our country is also vulnerable to climate change. Several states, including Selangor and Johor, were severely affected by droughts in the past several years due to prolonged hot weather.
To minimise the negative impacts of climate change on water resources, proactive measures are needed from people, government and industry. Each can play their role to safeguard water resources.
Currently, our average water consumption is 210 litres per capita per day. This consumption is 27% higher than the water usage recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is 165 litres per capita per day for domestic consumption.
Developed countries such as the Netherlands (107 litres per day) and Singapore (145 litres per day) are able to achieve much lower daily water consumption per capita than WHO’s recommendation.
We require only 100–120 litres of water per person per day to meet our basic needs. To prevent water wastage, the first thing we can do is to be aware of how much we use. This can be done by monitoring our monthly household water bill.
Several ways have been found to be effective in immediately reducing water consumption in our daily life. These include
taking shorter showers, operating the washing machine only on a full load, installing water cistern with half-flush function, using a bucket when washing cars (instead of an open hose) and collecting rainwater for outdoor use such as gardening and cleaning patios.
For the government, reducing the level of non-revenue water (NRW) should be the top priority. Currently, the national average for NRW is 35%. This means that for every one litre of treated water produced, 0.35 litre is lost mainly due to leakage in faulty pipes.
This is a huge financial loss to the water utilities that treat raw water and pump it to consumers, only to see it leak into the ground. As a comparison, Denmark and Singapore only record around 5% NRW losses.
The benefits of reducing NRW are significant. The less water lost, the less raw water is needed to be pumped and treated. This translates directly into higher profits. More importantly, the impact of water shortage during dry seasons would be significantly reduced.
We should not take the water pollution incidents lightly as they are often caused by man-made activities. The latest incident was the shut-down of four water treatment plants in Selangor following reports of odour pollution at Sungai Gong and Sungai Bakau in Rawang on Tuesday. Strict enforcement is needed to prevent the occurrence of raw water contaminants that temporarily suspend the operation of water treatment plants.
The authority concerned should not hesitate to take stern action against those found guilty by making jail terms and fines mandatory. They are the culprits causing the dangerous water supply disruptions.
For long-term planning, the government should consider diversifying our nation’s water supply portfolio by incorporating a secure and rainfall-independent water source. While the current measures, such as enhanced water catchment capacity and repair of infrastructure, are important, they can only improve the use of existing water resources. The only methods to expand water supply beyond its hydrological cycle are water reuse and desalination.
There has been rapid growth in the installation of desalination and water reuse facilities over the past decade as a means to augment water supply in many water-stressed countries. Statistics released by the International Desalination Association (IDA) indicated that there are currently more than 20,000 desalination plants operating around the world with a total capacity of more than 100 million m3/day.
The main factors driving the surge in desalination capacity include rising demand for clean water, reducing capital and operating costs of desalination and the need to replace water treatment facilities with energy-efficient processes.
With water demand in the non-domestic sector projected to increase every year, more needs to be done to reduce water consumption in industries, particularly water-intensive industries. Many successful cases were reported overseas of businesses that have implemented water recycling in their operations and have enjoyed significant water and cost savings. The benefit of cost saving is more obvious in industries because their water tariff is significantly higher compared to domestic users.
Industrial water recycling can reduce not only the demand for freshwater but also minimise pollutants entering the waterways. This is beneficial both to businesses and our environment. Some countries even offer tax incentives to encourage industries to recycle water.
Although our water tariffs are among the cheapest globally, we cannot take them for granted. Action should be taken to make every drop of water count. We need not wait for the day when our taps run dry before appreciating the true value of water.
ASSOC PROF DR LAU WOEI JYE
School of Chemical and Energy Engineering
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
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