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Frequent water disruptions in the Klang Valley reflect the dire need to prioritise the way we handle water management. FILE PIC

“THOUSANDS have lived without love, not one without water”, an American poet once said. But for the Klang Valley, we probably need to raise that figure to millions! That explains the value of water in our lives. After all countries have gone to war because of water.

Malaysians are rather blessed as our country is relatively rich in water resources due to its high rainfall, averaging 250cm or 98 inches, with Sabah and Sarawak having higher amounts, according to the Statistics Department.

As a result of its abundance, we tend to take a lackadaisical attitude towards water, especially in its use and conservation because it’s relatively cheap until a crisis strikes. Like recently when most parts of the Klang Valley were affected by river pollution and supply of piped water was disrupted.

Despite the names of several water concessionaires depicting heartwarming themes of satisfaction and felicitations, the nearly eight million residents in the Klang Valley didn’t actually have a splashing time indeed whenever such disruptions occur.

Residents face harrowing times whenever there’s no water to drink, for cleansing or flushing toilets, especially those living in high-rise flats where life is somewhat paralysed. When there’s no water, there’s no life.

The amount of money paid to companies to produce potable water runs into the billions. They include work on infrastructure construction, supply of building materials, pipe-laying and reservoir construction, to name a few. The accent is on infrastructure and very little on proper management if past experiences are anything to go by.

So, we’re still saddled with Third World-like water woes like river pollution as a result of lack of enforcement. Consumers often wonder what safeguards have been put in place by these big water management companies.

Like the recent water cuts, said to be due to sudden river pollution and possibly by saboteurs. So far, we’ve not heard whether the culprits had been apprehended. Amidst the lull, we often tend to forget about those bone-dry water-less situations until the next water disaster strikes.

These disruptions have been happening too frequently. One exasperated consumer with an oil and gas company on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur says saboteurs ought to be whipped for the misery they’ve inflicted on millions of people. Pollution must be regulated, monitored, controlled and enforced, she said.

Another dismayed consumer from Ampang, fuming over the on-off scheduled water cuts in July after the long four-day water disruption last April, describes the picture of scores of consumers lining up to fetch water from tankers for their daily needs as being more reminiscent of a Third World country struggling with basic infrastructure rather then one heading towards a Vision 2020 dream of becoming a developed nation!

The people behind the water business have described the industry as big. And many want to have a slice of the business. But it’s sad that people think it’s just about drawing water from the rivers, getting it filtered, treated and then piping it to consumers. That’s only one thing.

A more precarious and dangerous scenario is that many of the water concessionaires have their sources of water located near human habitats. Anything can happen in view of the proximity. I wonder when we will ever move up the value chain in terms of better water management.

Dr Xavier Jayakumar, the Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister, said recently that the country’s water industry is in dire straits. A grim assessment indeed.

Although some water concessionaires appear to have that “money or nothing” attitude, it’s time for his ministry to co-ordinate with relevant stakeholders and wield the big stick.

Some non-governmental organisations claim that they’ve heard the same lame excuses being produced whenever there’s a water crisis. It’s high time that these Third World excuses are banished into the ocean.

Malaysia is expected to see its water resources reduced by 20 to 25 per cent between 2025 and 2030. And Dr Jayakumar says despite the looming threat, the country’s water industry is not yet equipped to effectively address the water shortage.

He needs to identify what are the shortcomings so that people in the water business would buck up. By exposing their inadequacies, we as consumers will know where to pinpoint the source of our discomfort should another water crisis erupt.

This brings me to my main point: there’s a need for better water management — 360 degrees in all from water collection, filtration, treatment, distribution and sales.

We need to be cognisant of the current disincentive where people don’t treat water with greater respect because tariffs are relatively low. When tariffs are low, we tend to waste water needlessly. According to an old adage, people won’t know the real worth of water until the well is dry.

Getting people to have access to clean water calls for big investments. It’s not a small business. But the money expended for such endeavours must be well-spent.

We also ought to get tough with businesses so that they won’t argue that higher water tariffs will reduce them to poverty. We can tell them that they still get to drive their flashy limousines but they too must pull their weight and shoulder the responsibility for better water management.

We need to be resolute on this as we have heard plaintive cries from businesses whenever the government wants to raise electricity tariffs or push for greater automation. This has been going on for decades.

One environmental activist who had been hearing excuses for yonks has suggested that when the next major river pollution crisis occurs, the officers in charge of environment in that area should be arrested first for dereliction of duty.

Then the state exco member and federal minister in charge should also be shown the door. It might just work, he says.

The writer is a former chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of Bernama

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