Monday, April 05, 2010

Politics aside, water for all

IN GERMANY,  the entire cycle of water management is under the purview of the Federal government. This covers everything from water resources to the management of wastewater.

This means that if anything goes wrong, the Government is responsible. Thus, the nation opts for holistic water management.

However, it is a different story here in Malaysia, says Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) president N Marimuthu.

KunakwaterfalltepiIn early 2005, the Federal Constitution was amended to place water supply and services in Malaysia under the joint responsibility of the Federal Government and State Governments.

However, states are unwilling to give up control of water to one authority, as there are very few resources.

And when money is thrown into the equation, it becomes a different ballgame altogether.

Forests that should have been gazetted into water catchments areas can draw more money if sold for agricultural or logging purposes. Clearing the forests, land leveling, and water for plantation all rakes in good money for state governments.

Short term gain, long term loss
Because of logging and land leveling, water quality at catchments becomes compromised.

Often, it becomes so bad that the treatment plants are rendered incapacitated and has to be shut down as observed in many parts of Malaysia.

And although the plants are shut down as a result of failure of management, consumers have to pick up the tab, says Marimuthu.

He says even non-revenue water (NRW) leakage is put back into the tariff.

"Our affiliate, Water and Energy Consumer Association of Malaysia (WECAM) did a simple calculation and with average NRW 37 per cent in 2008, they found the cost of NRW to the RM1.5bil, which was paid through the tariff."

Water is God's gift
Marimuthu says another hindrance to good water management is political affiliations.

He gave the example of the Klang River, which cuts through KL and Selangor, and are managed by the federal government and the opposition-run state government respectively.

"Some RM10bil by the state government is going into the cleaning up of Klang River. But when I asked them if they are going to work together on this, they gave many reasons why they cannot put differences aside to do so," he says.

Marimuthu said to clean up a river, you need to first prevent the sources of pollution. Polluted wastewater can be diverted away from the river and treated, as have been practiced in many countries with success. Once good quality is achieved, it can be discharged into the Klang River.

"Water from the Klang River actually comes from water vapour that we may not be sure of its origin country or location, falls in parts of Pahang and Selangor before flowing down to Selangor and KL. At the border the water mixes, but we still see it as state-owned.

"Does that mean that if I'm from Selangor and I go to Perak, I don't deserve to drink water in Perak? Water is gift from God and it travels."

bakun-dam-2He says political alignments should be cast aside when it comes to saving precious resources.

He gave the example of the River Rhine, which cuts through nine countries and was one of the worst-polluted rivers in Europe.
Rhine is cleaner than rivers in Malaysia

But these nine countries - not states - with different political backgrounds, interests and beliefs, managed to work together to clean up the river.

"Now the River Rhine is much cleaner than any of the ones in Malaysia," says Marimuthu.

However, he says, Malaysia still has a chance to set things right.

"If we can keep the price down by ensuring raw water quality is high, then why not? Then Malaysia would have managed its water better than European countries. We can set the precedence." — Bernama

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