ARE millions of people in the Klang Valley bracing for a prolonged water crisis?
The grim scenario of taps running dry in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya could be a reality sooner rather than later if the Selangor government continues to drag its feet.
The economy and the people in the Klang Valley cannot be held to ransom by the Azmin administration’s failure to complete the state’s water restructuring exercise.
For historical reasons, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya rely on the Selangor government for their water supply. The longer the water issue stalls, the more acute is the water shortage.
Just consider this: The reserve margin of water in Selangor has fallen to an alarming four per cent. This is well below the “safe” level of 15 to 20 per cent.
Another worrying sign is that there are more than 1,000 underutilised water tanks in the state because of the low reserve margins in the water pipes that criss-cross the three jurisdictions.
One implication of the inaction of the Selangor government is on the economy.
Some 760 proposed development projects had to be shelved this year because the Selangor water company just cannot guarantee supply.
And there is more bad news for consumers.
It seems that more than half the water supply disruptions in the country took place in Selangor and the Federal Territory, with a staggering 84,000 cases reported.
Selangor’s Langat 2 project, which is critical to ensure water supply meets the growing demand, is now slated to be completed only in 2022 instead of the targeted 2017 because of the Selangor government’s delay in giving approvals.
So, the water situation is dire and everyone — from ordinary people to the powers-that-be in Putrajaya — is worried, except the people that govern Selangor.
You can’t play politics when it involves basic needs such as water supply.
There is also a new legal dimension to this water issue.
It seems that the national power utility company, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, has initiated legal proceedings against two Selangor water sub-contracting firms — Gamuda Water and Sungai Harmoni.
Both companies owed RM53 million to TNB since September last year.
Gamuda Water and Sungai Harmoni are the two sub-contractors to SPLASH, which is owed RM4 billion by the Selangor government for supplying treated water to the state.
The takeover of Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor Holdings Bhd (SPLASH) is the final jigsaw in Selangor’s much-needed water consolidation plan.
The Selangor government was supposed to take over SPLASH after it absorbed three other private water concessionaires, with the Federal Government brokering the deal because it involved both state and federal assets.
The state government initiated the takeover of the four concessionaires in 2008. Over the years, all the firms had agreed to the buyout except SPLASH.
SPLASH turned down the amount offered on grounds that it was not a fair price as it had the longest remaining tenure.
The looming water crisis in the Klang Valley could be an important lesson for Malaysia on how it looks at the water sector.
Right now, we have to grapple with the so-called federal-state dichotomy (as exemplified by the Selangor water issue), the inability to put a correct value to water and our over-reliance on traditional sources such as surface water, meaning rivers.
Unfortunately, some of the main rivers supplying water to the major cities are facing a rapid rate of man-made pollution.
We have to also start looking at the demand side of water management, rather than just the supply side.
In terms of non-revenue water (NRW), the whole exercise has been futile. One possible reason for the high NRW is that the current water tariffs are too low and uneconomic, leading to wastage.
The greater rural-urban migration, population growth and the growing economic shift from the agrarian to the manufacturing age would mean even greater demand for water, food and energy.
The World Economic Forum has warned that within the next 15 to 20 years, the worsening water security situation risks triggering a global food crisis, with shortfalls of up to 30 per cent in rice and other cereal production.
If your taps run dry one day, it might be too late to act.
When it comes to water management, Selangor is the least admired state.
A Jalil Hamid feels in a digital world, the winner does not always take all. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org