Children should be taught at a young age not to waste water.

By Kurniawati Kamarudin

Malaysia’s low water tariff structure is causing consumers to use water wastefully. The nation’s potable water supply should not be taken for granted in view of challenges faced by the water services industry. This is the first of two articles on this issue.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians tend to take the running water from their taps for granted.

The demand for clean treated water is growing ever bigger but climate changes are putting pressure on Malaysia’s water resources while its catchment areas are facing a rising incidence of pollution and development activities.

It is imperative that consumers change their attitude towards water and learn to use water prudently as experts are saying that Malaysians should brace themselves for frequent water shortages and higher tariffs in the near future.

Based on statistics from the National Water Services Commission (SPAN), Malaysians consume an average of 201 litres of water per person per day, which is equivalent to 134 bottles (1.5-litre capacity each). Malaysia’s average daily per capita consumption is higher than the 165 litres a day recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In comparison, Singaporeans use an average of 151 litres per person a day and Thais 193 litres per person a day.

To reduce water usage among Malaysians, SPAN has set a target of 181 litres per person per day which it hopes to attain this year.

Water disruptions are bound to occur more frequently in future if consumers don’t use water prudently.

Tariffs too low?

Not many people may be aware of the challenges faced by water service providers in treating raw water and channelling potable water to consumers.

The entire process has them tackling challenges they face at the various catchment areas and rivers that constitute the main sources of raw water supply, as well as at treatment plants and the water distribution system. 

Herein lies the question whether Malaysia’s relatively low water tariffs are the main reason why consumers pay no heed to the amount of water they use each day.

The answer is ‘yes’ because states that have lower tariff structures experience higher usage of water among their consumers.

According to the Malaysian Water Industry Guide 2018, Penang recorded the highest daily per capita consumption at 277 litres. 

Studies have shown that low tariffs are the main reason consumers pay no heed to using water wisely.

Penang’s water tariff structure, the lowest in the country because it is heavily subsidised, is as follows (figures are obtained from SPAN’s website): 22 sen per 1,000 litres (one cubic metre) for the first 20 cubic metres; 46 sen to RM1.17 per cubic metre for the subsequent 20 to 200 cubic metres; and RM1.30 per cubic metre exceeding 200 cubic metres.

The average water usage per person per day in the other states is as follows: Perlis, 245 litres; Melaka 228; Perak 227; Selangor and Negeri Sembilan 222; Kedah 217, Terengganu 204; Johor 200; Pahang 190; Sarawak 165; Labuan 161; Kelantan 141; and Sabah 108.  

Perlis charges 40 sen per cubic metre for the first 15 cubic metres of water consumed and RM1.10 per cubic metre for the subsequent 40 cubic metres. Melaka charges 60 sen per cubic metre for the first 20 cubic metres and RM1.45 for the subsequent 35 cubic metres and above.

Perak’s rate is 30 sen per cubic metre for the first 10 cubic metres and RM1.03 for the next 20 cubic metres and above.

In Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, it is 57 sen per cubic metre for the first 20 cubic metres and RM2.00 for the subsequent 35 cubic metres and above.

Negeri Sembilan charges 55 sen for the first 20 cubic metres and RM1.40 for the next 35 cubic metres and above. 

Children should be taught at a young age not to waste water.

Cost of treating water

Next comes the cost of treating raw water versus the tariffs paid by consumers.

According to SPAN, the cost of treating 1,000 litres of water is RM2.31 while domestic users are only charged an average tariff of 52 sen per 1,000 litres of water they use.

A majority of households use about 20,000 litres of water a month and their monthly bill comes to about RM10.40 when, in fact, the actual cost is RM46.20.

Singapore, in comparison, requires users to pay a water conservation tax on top of their monthly water bill.

It charges S$1.21 (RM3.62) per cubic metre for the first 40 cubic metres of water used, as well as a 50 per cent water conservation tax. For water usage exceeding 40 cubic metres, consumers have to pay S$1.52 (RM4.55) per cubic metre plus a 65 per cent water conservation tax.

The city-state’s steep rates could be one of the reasons Singaporeans are judicious in their use of water.

In Malaysia, the government has announced its proposal to increase the water tariff structure and it has been reported that the revised rates will be presented to the Cabinet for approval soon. Hopefully, the higher tariffs will compel Malaysians to change their attitude towards water and learn to value the resource.

Concurring that Malaysia’s low water tariffs are the reason for wasteful water consumption among consumers, Water and Energy Consumers Association president T. Saravanan said potable water that is meant for drinking and cooking purposes is, instead, being used for activities such as washing cars and watering the garden.

He told Bernama that while the demand for clean treated water is always on the rise, the nation’s water resources, on the other hand, are diminishing due to challenges such as the prevailing hot weather in certain states.

T. Saravanan

“Water shortages may occur more frequently in view of climate changes. Apart from that, our water security is also increasingly jeopardised by the pollution occurring in our rivers which are the main sources of raw water for the country,” he said.

He said if the situation remained the same, particularly the issue of pollution and catchment areas being cleared to make way for development, Malaysian consumers must be prepared to pay higher tariffs simply because it costs more to treat contaminated water.

However, he added, after the implementation of higher water tariffs, consumers must be guaranteed of better services and no more disruptions in water supply.

Water quality expert Dr Zaki Zainudin, meanwhile, said advanced nations like the United States and Singapore have legislation that guarantees the safety of the water distributed to the end-users.

He said although Malaysia has yet to attain advanced nation status, there has to be a starting point for the nation to improve and upgrade its water supply services.

Dr Zaki Zainudin

If the water tariff structure is revised upwards, is there any guarantee of an improvement in the quality of water services rendered to consumers?

“This is a question that the government has to consider, as well as the question of whether we are ready to have more stringent and holistic legislation to control pollution.

“There is a possibility of some parties saying that they are not ready for such legislation. Would this mean that we will continue to allow pollution to occur?” he asked, adding that only an advanced, and also costly, treatment system is capable of treating contaminated water.  – Bernama