The majority of Malaysia’s pipes are also made of asbestos cement, which is associated with health risks, pointed out Mr Edwin Oh, a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (INSAP).
He called for the asbestos cement pipes to be replaced with those made from safer alternatives, like unplasticised polyvinyl chloride.
While he felt a water tariff hike was inevitable, Mr Oh also questioned if the government should first tackle existing leaks and inefficiencies in the piping system before expecting consumers to pay more for water at a time when some taxes, like the Sales and Services Tax, have gone up.
“Is there a concrete plan in place to expedite the replacement of asbestos cement pipes? How is the administration planning to reduce the non-revenue water losses?” he wrote in a paper published by INSAP on Jan 11, when there was already talk of an impending tariff hike.
Mr Oh believes revenue from the increased tariffs will not directly compensate for losses due to non-revenue water.
“Ultimately, raising rates is a blunt tool that won’t solve the specific problem of non-revenue water. There must be a sophisticated (restructuring) of the water industry altogether,” he told CNA.
POLLUTION OF WATER SOURCES
In his paper, Mr Oh also highlighted the issue of river pollution, which has led to supply disruptions around the country and, in some extreme cases, had significant health implications.
In 2019, the illegal dumping of toxic waste in Johor’s Kim Kim River contaminated nearby rivers, impacted the livelihoods of village fishermen and released toxic fumes that led to the hospitalisation of nearly 3,000 people.
The majority of water pollution in Malaysia originates from non-point sources, meaning the pollution can be traced to different sources, like rainwater runoff from a night market that carries trash, food waste and oils into storm drains and nearby rivers.
Mr Oh said the government must revisit existing legislation to address the “complex” issue of water pollution.
“For instance, a review (of) the Environmental Quality Act 1974 (Act 127) is needed along with added initiatives to introduce stringent measures to combat those who do not practice proper industrial waste disposal,” he wrote.
DIVERSIFICATION OF WATER SOURCES
Adding to water security challenges are weather factors like rainfall, which has become less predictable due to climate change.
The water level in Johor’s Linggiu Reservoir has fallen to as low as 20 per cent in the past decade due to dry spells. This reservoir is also Singapore’s main water source in Malaysia, meeting up to 60 per cent of the Republic’s domestic demand.
Mr Santiago previously said that Malaysia should consider using reclaimed water as an alternative source to help tackle rising challenges concerning water supply.
After the tariff hike was announced, he told The Star that besides addressing current needs, revenues would also go towards preparing the water sector to deal with climate change, where raw water sources could decline.
But a consumer association in Malaysia urged the government and water companies to be more specific with their plans.
“What will the government and water operators do? What are the key performance indicators (KPI) that need to be set? And what is the short- and long-term evidence which can be seen to show tangible results?” Mr T Saravanan, chief executive officer of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations, told CNA.
“These are the questions consumers are asking.”
AWER’s Mr Piarapakaran said state water companies are currently required to submit a three-year rolling plan on their infrastructure projects and service quality to SPAN for approval. This will be reviewed every year to ensure targets are met.
“Data on improvements, KPIs, failures and problems of state water companies are already available,” he said.
“We have urged the federal ministry, SPAN, state governments and water services companies to publish the list of service quality improvements for every supply zone so that both domestic and non-domestic consumers can give continuous feedback to the regulator.”
Mr Santiago told local media that water operators need to report every cent they spend, including listing the projects they will undertake, when these will be implemented, and the contractors they hire.
The implementation of these projects will also be displayed on the websites of SPAN and the respective companies, he said.
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