LETTER TO THE EDITOR
CRITICAL NEED FOR A WATER DEMAND MANAGEMENT POLICY
Your report entitled “Klang Valley heading for water crisis” (NST, 28th December 2008) was timely and necessary.
Environmental groups such as the Malaysian Nature Society have, for years, been urging the Government to take action to conserve our water resources and to protect the health of our rivers and watersheds.
The Selangor Branch of the Malaysian Nature Society has on 24th November 2008 submitted a Water Demand Management Plan to the Selangor State Exco for Tourism, Consumer Affairs and the Environment, but has yet to receive a response from the Exco.
The need for a Water Demand Management Plan is now more critical than ever. Malaysia has been dismally ill-equipped to deal with the problems of deteriorating water quality, losses caused by flood, substandard and obsolete water infrastructure, the destruction of vital watersheds and wetlands and other environmental transgressions. Our country needs a water policy that can clearly define developmental goals without sacrificing the environment. There is a vital need to coordinate efforts between states to improve the productivity and efficiency of our water use, as well as maintain the health of our rivers and watersheds.
South Africa's National Water Act of 1998, for instance, provides for, among others, environmental flow requirements for rivers to maintain downstream species, ecosystems and livelihoods before dams may be constructed. The said Act looks at river basins as important ecological systems, requiring that basic human needs and environmental needs are met before giving water to industry and agriculture, thus compelling the agricultural and industrial sectors to use water more efficiently.
Malaysia should likewise enact water conservation and demand management policies to protect our water resources. The solution to our country's water problems lies not in the construction of an infinite number of dams, or in water rationing for domestic users, but in repairing and maintaining the existing water supply infrastructure to minimise non-revenue water loss and to promote and enforce more efficient water use.
Measures and incentives such as differential water pricing systems and voluntary water reduction schemes should be put in place to encourage homeowners, developers, commercial property owners and managers of public facilities to install water-saving devices such as aerated taps, dual flush toilets and low-flow showerheads. While the public education efforts of non-governmental organizations can go a long way towards changing the mindset of the people, legislative mechanisms can be just the catalyst needed to promote water efficiency in a country that has always taken water supply for granted.
The agricultural sector would be the first to benefit from the implementation of more water-efficient technologies such as drip irrigation, which will translate into savings for all parties. Conventional irrigation systems result in huge water wastage through evaporation. However, since irrigated water in the agricultural sector is often heavily subsidised, there is, until now, little incentive for farmers to adopt water-saving technologies.
Dams are not the last source of water for a growing populace. Water-saving technologies, as well as an intelligent maintenance culture and the preservation of our wetlands and watersheds, make better solutions. It would therefore be timely and necessary for Malaysia to implement a comprehensive water demand management policy.
WONG EE LYNN
Green Living Special Interest Group
Malaysian Nature Society