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Federal-level management of water supply is essential
WATER STRESS: If we don't act now, our cities will end up like those in India that don't get 24-hour clean water supply
A RECENT documentary on television could not have been aired at a better time -- when the tug-of-war between the Federal and Selangor governments over the management of water supply is becoming a political issue.
The documentary was about a grim situation where the earth's population is double than now. It told of great hardship, of overcrowded cities, poor sanitation, massive social issues and other environmental challenges.
One of which is the shortage of clean water. Far-fetched? Not at all. It is already happening, even here in Malaysia.
As recent as four decades ago, our tap water was drinkable. I remember going straight for one of the taps near the canteen in school immediately after physical education sessions then. But this is not so anymore. Our tap water today is brownish in colour and at times and in certain places, it has an unpleasant smell.
The United Nations (UN) has estimated that by 2050, as much as 70 per cent of people in the world would be living in cities. By that year, the world body forecasts population to reach a staggering 9.2 billion. Consequently, demand for clean water would have increased by many folds.
While population continues to increase, the quantity of water is finite. We are drinking today the same water the dinosaurs drank more than 65 million years ago. Water is only recycled naturally through the hydrological cycle.
Not only will the same quantity of water have to be shared between significantly more people in future, we will also have to compete with demands from industries and agriculture. It is inevitable that the supply of water through nature's hydrological process will one day fall short.
Around the world, cities are already beginning to feel the stress of meeting demand for clean water. In India for example, many cities do not get 24-hour clean water supply. And if we do not act now, our very own cities will face the same problem.
Of particular importance is Kuala Lumpur, which gets its water supply from Selangor. A water source flowing across the city, the Klang River, is so contaminated that even treatment would not make the water drinkable.
The river has been abused for decades, treated irresponsibly as a big dumping area. That the water management issue in Selangor is now being politicised is not helping matters at all.
It is best that the management of water supply be centralised at the Federal Government level so that a nationwide policy can be formulated to ensure continuous supply of clean water in all our cities, a priority fast becoming more urgent than determining which political party wins an election.
And such policy would not be limited to just ensuring water in reservoirs is adequate, but to also ensure they remain adequate for the future. This would entail policies concerning protection of catchment areas, development along riverbanks and the cleaning-up of rivers and freshwater lakes. An initiative as massive as this can only be handled by the Federal Government.
At the end of the documentary, city dwellers were shown going on mass migrations to the remaining sources of clean water, the two polar regions. They looked no different from the wild beasts migrating in search of grazing land and drinking water on a dry season on the Serengeti plains in Africa.