Do it like Penang

WATER, the source of life, plays an important role in our daily lives. And yet many of us take for granted the value of clean water. Safe and clean water is not just for everyone's health but access to a continuous supply of water is essential for stronger economies in cities and makes sustainable development of a nation possible.

In developed countries, it is estimated that an average person uses between 100 and 250 litres of water per day for things like drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry, flushing toilets, house cleaning, watering plants in gardens and washing cars.

While we necessarily consume water, we should also be responsible in conserving it. For example, we should turn faucets off while brushing our teeth and take shorter showers. We can install low-flow bathrooms and kitchen fixtures. We should also educate school children and the public about the importance of conserving and managing water resources and reducing water usage.

For many years, the United Nations (UN) has focused on the importance of water, with a target of providing access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.

According to the UN, water scarcity affects 40% of people worldwide and that this figure is projected to increase due to global warming. It is therefore necessary to protect and restore ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and river areas, environments that are important for the natural water cycle in order to maintain supplies and mitigate water scarcity.

One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN Development Programme is water and sanitation. This is to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

In addition, the UN General Assembly declared March 22 of each year as World Water Day.

Without proper sanitation infrastructure and practices, water sources can become contaminated. Every year, millions of people, especially children, die from diseases linked with insufficient water supply such as cholera and diarrhoea. Not having enough toilets is a leading cause of the spread of diseases. Not having sufficient piped water and sewers leads to possibly contamination of waterways and depletion of aquifers.
In Penang, for the World Water Day 2017, organised by Penang Water Watch, the theme was "Save water, use it wisely". The objective was to educate school children and the public about the importance of saving water.

For World Water Day 2018 in Penang, the theme was "Save Ulu Muda". It called for a total ban of logging activities in the Ulu Muda Forest Reserve in Kedah as it is the most important water catchment area in the Northern Corridor Economic Region.

Continued logging activities there will threaten raw water supply for millions of people, thousand of businesses, and agricultural and industrial sectors in Perlis, Kedah and Penang.

Other organisations that called for a total logging ban included Forum Air Malaysia, the Penang Institute, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Water Watch Penang and WWF Malaysia.

In the Penang Water Supply Corporation's Annual Report 2017, chief executive officer Datuk Ir Jaseni Maidinsa stated that "when the rain-forests are gone, then only will we know the true value of water".

Credit should be given to the leading water supply operator of Penang for its excellent performance over the last few decades and maintaining its vision of uninterrupted water supply needs on a 24/7 basis to the state, while protecting the environment.

We should be proud to say that, unlike other states, there has been no threat of water rationing for Penangites.

The corporation's proposal for the mandatory installation of water saving devices in all new development projects was approved by the Penang State Executive Council in November 2017. These devices automatically reduce water consumption by between 14% and 87%. Domestic consumers who use less than 35,000 litres a month do not have to pay water conservation surcharges.

The outstanding management of the water company dates back to the days of the former general manager, the late Datuk Ir Kam U-Tee from 1973 to 1990. He was popularly known as "the Waterman of Penang" and worked diligently to manage and improve the state water supply.

Penang can become a model for sustainable water management. In addition to protecting ecosystems and improving water infrastructure, we can show how government policies and resident behaviour can contribute to keeping rivers and coastlines clean and beautiful. This will complement efforts to develop a liveable state, island and city, where environmental concerns are considered as important as cultural and economic development.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: