MalaysiaKini, Thursday, 23 Apr 2020, 11:14 am

Water is important for food and rural development, national food security, economic development and the environment to preserve water resources (both surface water, groundwater and natural flow regimes), bio-diversity and cultural heritage, along with mitigation of water-related hazards. As the world confronts the Covid-19 pandemic, experts stress the importance of constantly and thoroughly washing hands with soap and water and using alcohol-based hand sanitisers to reduces the risk of getting or spreading the coronavirus. What if we do not have access to clean water for any prolonged time during this or any future pandemic?

Sungai Selangor is one of the major rivers that runs from Kuala Kubu Bharu and empties into the Straits of Malacca at Kuala Selangor. Sungai Selangor Dam and Sungai Tinggi Dam have the capacity to supply 344,529 million litres of water. There are three water treatment plants operating under Sungai Selangor with a total capacity of 2,700 million litres per day serving Klang Valley, Kuala Selangor and Hulu Selangor involving 1,133 areas of 1,166,842 customer accounts. On March 27, we faced the first unscheduled water disruption during the movement control order and another within 20 days which was on April 17. This water disruption caused by pollution in Sungai Selangor affected 52 percent of total account holders in Selangor.

Amid this Covid-19 pandemic, 1,292 areas in eight regions, namely Kuala Lumpur, Petaling, Klang, Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Gombak and Kuala Langat, faced water disruption from midnight of April 16 which was only fully restored after three days. The Sungai Selangor Water Treatment plants SSP1, SSP2, SSP3 and Rantau Panjang had to be shut down following an incident of odour pollution in Sungai Selangor detected in the raw water supply from the river.

Government and water operators are committed to providing better water supply for the general public as well as for the industrial and agricultural) sectors. Several policies have been developed and many programmes have been initiated to ensure continuous water supply. However, rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, together with climate change and increasing number of polluted rivers, make some of the traditional approaches in planning and managing water resources ineffective and requires urgent assessment.

We need better policies to curb and prevent pollution at river basins. Instead of investigating who the polluters are after the incidents, it would be more beneficial to study how these polluters operate and curb the methods they use by implementing mitigation initiatives. It was suspected that the recent water pollutant was from fish rearing activities along the river. If our enforcement agencies are unable to monitor our rivers due to the length of our rivers or manpower shortages, policymakers need to aggressively think about engaging resident association and communities along the rivers to teach communities on the importance of preserving water quality, flora and fauna in rivers as the saying “kita jaga kita” (we take care of each other).

Many regulator bodies want local NGOs to play an active role in promoting awareness. This can be easily done if funds are allocated to local NGOs to reach out and work with the communities along rivers. A hotline should be made available and known to all consumers surrounding rivers to enable them to report potential activities that may pollute river basins. Large cities including Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, Brazil, have begun to heed climate change and water scarcity warning signs. In response, public officials are initiating innovative water alternatives to conserve water, reuse wastewater and harvest rainwater.

Malaysia’s water consumption per capita has been increased by four litres from 222 litres per capita per day (LCD) in 2017 to 226 LCD in 2018. Together we need to start using water wisely and stop wastage by using water-efficient products and healthy water-consuming habits. Malaysia should proactively start to look into new housing projects and new office buildings with rainwater harvesting and reusing wastewater as potential ways to meet future water demands. Our hope is “Water for people: all have access to safe, adequate and affordable water supply, hygiene and sanitation”.

In unison, consumers and producers need to be aware that water demands are getting higher and expensive while water supply is becoming scarce. Enforcement agencies need to ensure that all activities along rivers are monitored proactively. According to the World Wildlife Fund, at the current water consumption rate, by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. Let us not wait for an economic shutdown due to water scarcity or pollution. Policymakers have to look into obtaining and protecting potential water source to meet future water demands just like having a vaccine at hand to fight off any future pandemics.