New water meters will help plug waste

PERHAPS nowhere else in the world is clean water wasted as glaringly as in Malaysia. The average Malaysian’s appreciation of the real value of water is said to be the lowest despite the fact that for all intents and purposes water is life’s most precious resource.

Much of the world is facing a water crisis or acute shortages. Simply put, water is life itself for life without it is unimaginable.

I have written so much about water in this column over the years and I must admit that it’s one issue that’s closest to my heart. As a journalist, I deem that it would be remiss on my part if I don’t draw public attention to the critical need to use water wisely and in my reckoning, the wanton acts of wasting water are a crime in itself.

It’s for this reason that I have been a vocal critic of the free water policy introduced by the PKR-led Selangor state government, which came to power in 2008.

When you give a commodity as precious as water free to consumers, the inherent attitude of taking things for granted imbued in the Malaysian DNA gets even worse.

By right, Selangor as the most densely populated and developed state in the country should set the example for others on water conservation but instead its free-water policy only nullifies any effort to educate the people to give water the respect that it deserves.

And free water is in any case a gross misnomer. Since its introduction, the Selangor government has paid a few billion ringgit to privatised concessionaires for the supply and distribution of water, money that could have been otherwise used for other purposes. After all, it’s the hard-earned taxpayers’ money.

No one would mind paying for water at its market rate but in Malaysia water tariffs for states without free water are arguably the lowest in the world and given that water resources are getting more scarce, are even fixed at below production cost.

This is one area that sorely needs revisiting including in Selangor because there have been frequent supply disruptions and rationing over the past few years that have affected people’s livelihood.

And as the nation’s economic hub that accounts for some 25% of the gross domestic product, manufacturing industries are the biggest losers during a water crisis. Needless to say, a water crisis is the mother of all crises.

The latest disturbing news on water came on Tuesday from someone who is a water engineer by training and whose expertise in the field is internationally recognised.

Datuk Seri Ir Dr Zaini Ujang, who fittingly is the secretary-general of the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, revealed that some four billion litres of treated water is wasted daily in the country.

It’s about the same amount of water consumed daily in the Klang Valley that includes parts of Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Such a huge volume of water down the drain, or otherwise known as non-revenue water (NRW), is mainly due to factors like broken, leaking or non-functional pipes and even water theft.

Overall, some 35% of water being produced is NRW with states like Sabah, Sarawak, Kedah, Perlis, Pahang and Kelantan recording the highest.

But yet another main culprit for NRW is something that’s rarely been publicly discussed – obsolete water meters.

Zaini said a water meter could only function well for 10 years and beyond that it’s no longer sensitive to any changes in a consumer’s water usage.

And if the old meter is replaced, at least 20% of the NRW could be recovered.

He said the issue here is that consumers don’t want to change their meters as this would mean that their water bills would increase as such meters would reflect the proper readings of their consumption.

I don’t think this is something where the consumers should be given the option whether or not to replace the old meters. If they need to be replaced for the larger and crucial interest of prudent water consumption and conservation, then this should be done.

There are no two ways about it.

In fact, it’s something long overdue.

To cite an example, in my housing estate, the same meters have been in use since residents moved in 34 years ago.

One of most shameful things happening on the water front is the frequent discovery of water theft at construction sites or in other words, siphoning water via illegal pipe extensions.

We all know how much water is being guzzled up at high-rise building sites which take years to complete.

It’s a disgrace and absolutely irresponsible for certain contractors to cut corners by resorting to water theft when at the same time they proudly announce to the media that their projects would derive a few billion in gross development value.

Stern action should be taken in cases of wanton water theft instead of just imposing fines which the culprits pay with a smile.

In many countries, water meters are replaced every eight years and Malaysia must do the same.

Please use water sparingly. We can survive without money but not water.