Where’s my water? Water rationing and water shortages in Selangor
Update (Jun 28, 2012): This blog entry was published today in the New Straits Times newspaper.
There may be talks about water rationing soon in this country, but for my family and I, our neighborhood in Selangor has already been experiencing water rationing as early as February this year. The water to our home would often be turned off in the mornings and would remain as such until after midnight. We would sometimes experience water rationing as long as 12 to 15 hours in a day.
Our situation has now worsened during this current prolonged dry and hot weather. Whenever water to our home is finally turned on, the water that comes out of our taps has such a low pressure that the water is unable to feed into our washing machine.
Most Malaysians are naïve about the scarcity and value of water. For some people, politics have taken priority over science—such as in the case for Selangor’s water.
Although Earth comprises 70% water, only 0.6% of our planet’s water is directly usable to us. Malaysia may have abundant annual rainfall of between 2,000 to 3,000 mm, but our rainfall is not uniform throughout the year. There would be months of dry weather. The largest consumer of water worldwide is the agriculture sector that consumes 85% of total water in the world. Malaysia, for example, uses 1.7 million liters of water per second to grow crops!
Selangor specifically uses 0.13 million liters of water per second to grow crops. This amount of water is equivalent to 20% or one-fifth of Selangor’s rainfall. Moreover, this amount of water does not include the amount of water required in the processing and other downstream activities of agriculture raw products. To produce 1 kg of oil palm bunch in Malaysia, for example, requires 500 liters of water. And to extract and process the oil from the oil palm bunches would require an additional 4,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of palm oil. Consequently, a lion share of Selangor’s rainfall goes into farming and the agriculture industry, with the leftovers for other economic sectors and domestic users.
Perhaps Malaysians and our authorities should look at our neighbor, Singapore, which is regarded by some as the world leader in urban water management.
In 2009, Malaysians consumed more than 300 liters of water per capita per day, which is more than double from that recommended by U.N. (140-150 liters per capita per day). Our daily water consumption rises at a rate of about 8 liters per capita every year. At this rate, Malaysia would have nearly no water reserves left by 2025. In contrast, Singaporeans’ daily water consumption reduces by about 1.3 liters per capita every year to reach 155 liters per capita per day in 2010. Furthermore, Singapore aims to reduce their daily water consumption further to 140 liters per capita by 2030.
Unlike Malaysians who treat water as a low-value commodity, Singaporeans view water as their nation’s lifeblood: a precious resource to be cleaned, harvested, and recycled. Water runoff from about two-thirds of Singapore’s land area is funneled into water supply systems. Changi airport, for example, have facilities to harvest rainwater and collect runoff. Marina Barrage further collects water runoff from a land area nearly the size of Malaysia’s Tioman Island.
Singapore also boasts of having the lowest water leakages in the world. On average, the world loses 25 to 40% of water through leakages within the water distribution network. Malaysia, for instance, loses 36% of her water through leakages. Singapore, on the other hand, loses only 5%.
Where the Selangor government indirectly encourages water wastage by giving its citizens free water (up to 20 cubic meters), Singapore has taken the message to save water to the nation’s youngsters. Messages to promote the saving and protection of water and rivers are taken to schools and teenagers in Singapore through mascots and lifestyle eco-magazines.
Singapore has unwittingly become an example for Malaysia and the world on wise water management. In an aspiration to become totally self-sufficient in freshwater by 2060, Singapore has taken a series of motivated moves to wisely treat and manage its freshwater. The biggest slap for Malaysia would be when Malaysia experiences frequent and prolonged dry taps, but Singapore, in contrast, finally achieves its ambition of water self reliance. Perhaps then Malaysians would wake up when Singapore bids us farewell by saying, “So long, and thanks for all the water.”
“Water, water everywhere” by Fred Pearce. New Scientist. Nov. 2010