Managing water resources well for sustainability
Over-emphasis on water supply management
The water management system in Malaysia employs and depends heavily on the water supply management approach to cater to demand. This approach is unsustainable in the long run as water demand will eventually overtake water supply. The greater the demand, the more water has to be supplied so more structures like dams, water treatment plants and water distribution pipes need to be built. Where will it end? Supply and demand-side management has to be integrated. In addition, there is a need to look at water wastage and rates to change the appalling consumptive behaviour of most Malaysians towards water.
Malaysia lacks a central agency to manage the overall aspects of water resources management. Too many agencies have jurisdiction over different aspects of water management, leading to sectoral management of water and conflicting or competing objectives.
High rates of water wastage
Rates of water wastage in domestic, industrial and agricultural use are very high and this is unsustainable in the long term. Compared to other countries, Malaysia uses and wastes too much water.
Changing weather patterns
Globally and locally, the climate and weather are changing and this is affecting water resources. For example, the 1997/98 El Nino brought severe drought resulting in water crises in many parts of Malaysia. Water planning in Malaysia does not adequately take into account changes in weather patterns.
High rates of Non-revenue Water (NRW)
Rates of NRW in Malaysia are much too high with the national average being 40%. This equals a loss of 40 litres out of every 100 litres of treated water. If Malaysia can reduce the NRW losses to a minimum, the building of new dams could be delayed.
Privatization of the water sector
Water is considered a lucrative commodity and there are plans by the government to privatize water supply in almost every State. However, several water privatisation schemes have not produced desirable results. Water privatisation still lacks transparency and accountability.
Destruction and degradation of water catchments
Many water catchments in the country have yet to be gazetted and protected. Consequently, they are exposed to development of all kinds resulting in adverse environmental effects, which ultimately make water resources unsustainable.
Most legislation relating to water is outdated and needs to be reviewed in today’s context. Many existing laws are also not comprehensive enough and do not deal directly with water issues. The recently approved Water Services Industry Act and National Water Services Commission Act provide some progress towards strengthening water resources management. However, their scope is limited to matters concerning regulation of the water services industry involving mainly the treatment and distribution of water supply.
Water pollution is a serious problem in Malaysia and impacts negatively on the sustainability of water resources. It reduces total water availability considerably as the cost of treating polluted waters is too high and in some instances, polluted waters are not treatable for consumption.
Low water rates
Water rates in Malaysia are amongst the lowest in the world. This has not encouraged water conservation but instead led to water wastage and overuse, both of which undermine the sustainability of water.
Inefficient agricultural water use
Agriculture uses about 68% of total water consumption in Malaysia but irrigation efficiency is 50% at best in the larger irrigation schemes and less than 40% in the smaller ones. There is also no recycling of irrigated water. All of these factors challenge the sustainability of water resources.