Sunday, July 1, 2012
Water, Water Everywhere ….Really ?
A Malaysian protesters holding a placard written ' Give Back People's Right of Water Supply' near the National Mosque during a protest against water tariff hike issues in Kuala Lumpur. 05/12/2010.
I woke up this morning to find that yet again the water supply in my housing area had been interrupted. This is the 3rd time in just as many weeks. Is this a sign of things to come in tropical Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur, where we have always taken our water for granted? Living in the tropics, on the Equator where there is an abundance of rainfall, it is easy to be oblivious to the water stresses faced in other parts of the Globe. It is however becoming increasingly obvious that the availability of water is progressively becoming an issue here, with increased industrial activity and reduced clean water supply.
Approximately 700 million people currently live in countries that experience water scarcity and it has been projected that by 2030, population and economic growth will cause excess demand of 40% over current water supply1.
The water management system in Malaysia depends heavily on the water supply management approach to cater to demand. However in the long run this approach is unsustainable as water demand will eventually overtake water supply. Greater demands will need more structures like dams, water treatments plants, distribution networks and systems to be built. But this is certainly not going to be sustainable in the long term.
There are many areas that need to be addressed ranging from from the way the water resources are managed, to addressing the high rates of non-revenue water and the water tariffs that are charged. There is also the issue around the management of water catchments, many of which are exposed to development of all kinds resulting in adverse environmental effects causing destruction and degradation of the catchments. Then there are legislative matters to be looked at. In some countries in this region, legislation has not kept up and the applicable laws are not necessarily reflective of the situation faced in today’s landscape.
There are institutional issues that need to be addressed such as who should have the responsibility of managing this precious resource? A common scenario is where there is no one central agency managing overall aspects of water resource management, leading to sectorial management of water and possible conflicting or competing objectives.
The other aspect that needs examination is how much should consumers (both domestic and commercial users) pay for water. We expect to turn on our taps and enjoy the clean water that comes out, yet we are not prepared to pay for the convenience and the ready availability of the resource. It is a strange thing, that as consumers many of us think nothing of spending US4.00 for a branded cup of coffee or US1.00 for a can of soft drink that is not even half a litre in volume but will baulk at the thought of paying the same amount of money for 1000 litres of usable water from our taps.
The United Nations recommends a benchmark of 165 litres for domestic users. The average Malaysian uses 25% more than the benchmark, with residents on the island state of Penang to the north of Malaysia using an average of 286 litres. Singaporeans on the other hand use 158 litres on average. Interestingly the water rates in Malaysia are amongst the lowest in the world and not surprisingly residents of Penang pay the lowest tariffs in the country, 31 sen (US 10 cents) per cubic metre. By comparison citizens of Singapore have to pay up to 7 times more. It certainly appears therefore that the rates that are paid for water can encourage positive behaviours in relation to water conservation.
The water issue in Malaysia is growing rapidly. Many are currently not prepared for the risk of increased water tariffs and the lack of water supply or the additional cost to clean water sources to a suitable level for use. Even more are not even aware that there is a problem that is looming, and that is the real threat. While governments and industry need to address infrastructure and commercial aspects, there is a real need raise the level of public awareness on this issue and to (re)educate the consumer about responsible water behaviour. With less than 2% of the world's water supply safe for consumption and rapidly decreasing, time is running out….fast.
By Vimal L. Kumar@Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia