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Put an end to the water crisis!

January 7, 2013

The rakyat is paying the price for complacency and politicising of the Selangor water shortage crisis.

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By Aziff Azuddin

I was fairly annoyed when I was about to enter a restaurant and the waiter informed me that they were closed for the day due to water shortage. Right, this must be the supposed Selangor water shortage the media headlines have been screaming about for months.

For the past few days, various hotspots in Selangor saw their water supplies plummet due to a faulty water pump operated by Syabas (Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor) in its Wangsa Maju plant. It came without notice and as expected, everyone’s angry.

According to Selangor Menter Besar Khalid Ibrahim, it was due to Syabas’ negligence in fixing up the damaged water pump although it was aware of the problem for more than a year.

Now, I can’t say whether I can take this statement as a whole grain of truth but what I do know is that Syabas is Selangor’s only water distributor.

In case you were missing out, the commotion over the Selangor water crisis for the past two months happened like this:

The federal government alongside several water experts have been pointing out since the 1990s that Selangor was headed for an impending water crisis unless another water treatment plant was built to process raw water and support the state’s heavy usage.

In the past year, the federal government had proposed that the Langat 2 water treatment plant be built to meet this impending water crisis. It would cost RM5 billion.

The state government came up with a solution to install filter membranes instead to treat the water. The filter membranes would cost RM750 million.

The federal government vehemently rejected the Selangor government’s proposal, saying that for a short-sighted plan, it was too costly and ineffective (how exactly?).

Tenders were opened for the Langat 2 water treatment plant anyway.

Political espionage

I have but one vital question for both Syabas and the ruling government: if the water crisis was indeed predicted at least 20 years ago, why couldn’t have anything be done about it?

Perhaps you can say it had to do with lack of funds or technology. Or maybe both. The fact that the Selangor water crisis is conveniently happening when the 13th general election is around the corner sounds too fishy.

A conspiracy theorist may even point out that this would suspiciously look like political/industrial espionage in order to frame certain parties.

Based on what has been said so far, these are the reasons why the Langat 2 water treatment plant is needed:

Syabas supplies about 4436m3 of water. Selangor consumes up to 4371m3. This leaves about 1.5% in reserve.

An optimal water reserve amount is supposed to be 15%.

There are 34 water treatment plants in Selangor, all running at full capacity and 24 hours every day. If one breaks down, Selangor is doomed.

The installation of the Langat Two water treatment plant will see an increase in water supply by 1,200 million litres daily.

Let me shed some light on how water is treated.

The water that is collected at the reservoir dams is raw water and is contaminated due to exposure to the different environments it comes from. This water will go through a treatment plant where it will be coagulated (with ion and limes), go through rapid sand filtration, disinfected and finally channelled into a reservoir – ready to be consumed.

We have enough raw water (especially for Malaysia, a country that sees rain almost every other day). What we don’t have is enough water treatment facilities to meet the growing demand of consumers, not only in residential homes but also in businesses and industries.

However, we have also to be realistic: with the installation of a new treatment plant (that would take years), does one really think that the water crisis will magically go away the next day?

Lack of efficient management

We also have to take into account the Water Services Industry Act that was passed by the government in 2006, in view of the fact that privatisation didn’t work well.

The law required for the de-privatisation of the water industries and returning them to their state governments. Syabas, however, seems to be still running on its own, seven years down the road.

Syabas’s NRW (non-revenue water) runs at 32%, which is equivalent to letting your tap water run on for weeks or maybe even longer. NRW, by the way, is water wasted due to the treatment plant’s inefficiencies.

Even Bangladesh, at 29%, has a lower NRW. So is the water crisis due to the lack of treatment plants or inefficient management of wasted water?

Clearly, we need to find better technologies to deal with this whopping NRW level. Perhaps with Langat 2, we should look at better management of NRW.

Both Syabas and the Selangor government have been pointing fingers at each other for months while the consumers watch angrily from the sidelines.

And now, we’re paying the price for complacency and the politicising of the water crisis issue. No water to cook, bathe, wash or even run your restaurant. Sure, I can go on a week without bathing but what about clean water to drink?

To whichever party is responsible, please do the responsible thing and settle this issue like gentlemen. I don’t mind if you want to bicker and argue all day (frankly, I’m already desensitised), but if it’s adversely affecting the rakyat, stop. Just stop.

Aziff Azuddin is a journalism student.


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