MY friends, when it rains, do you rush to place a pail outside your house?
Kudos to you if you do so. You deserve a pat on the back for treasuring water, the source of all life on earth.
In the olden days, it was common to see families, especially in the rural areas of Sarawak, harvesting rainwater.
As a young girl, I used to spend my year-end holidays at my grandmother‘s village in Kanowit District.
Whenever it rained, my aunts would be busy collecting the rainwater and storing it in earthen jars and other storage containers. The water would later be used for cooking, drinking and washing of pots and pans, etc.
If it rained, my aunts did not have to carry pails and pails of water from the river back to the house. As we grew bigger, my siblings and I would later help with this laborious chore.
Later, when the piped water supply came to the village, everyone stopped harvesting rainwater. When it rained, nobody placed pails, drums or other large containers outside the houses anymore.
The free water falling onto the roof just seeped down the ground.
Many Sarawakians who live in urban centres of the state, particularly the younger generation, tend to take water for granted. If they want water, all they have to do is to go to the taps and turn them on.
Many have never experienced life in a rural environment and realised how precious rainwater really is.
In rural areas, which are still without treated water supply, many villagers have to work hard to collect the water they need for cooking and drinking from the rivers and wells.
If they are lucky, some of these villagers may have access to gravity feed water supply. In this case, the piped water comes straight from a mountain but is not treated. So it may contain impurities like leaves.
My grandmother’s village used to have gravity feed water system. Later, after the introduction of the piped water supply, the gravity feed water system was neglected although the water from the mountains was free of charge. Many of the villagers preferred the treated water they received because it was clean.
I do not know whether the gravity feed water system in my grandmother’s village is still operational or not because I have not been there for a long time.
But isn’t it nice if the villagers have maintained the gravity feed water system and use the water from the mountain for washing their toilets, cups, plates and spoons, washing their cars and watering their plants? At least, they can cut down on their water bills and use the water from the mountains whenever the treated water taps run dry.
Sometimes, old things can still be used if they are well maintained. Don’t simply chuck away old things that can still be used.
Do you know some experts in Malaysia have suggested that rainwater be harvested as an additional water resource to lower our water bills?
They point out that the harvested rainwater can be used to flush toilets, for watering plants, washing cars and even cleaning the driveway.
Besides using pails, basins and drums to collect the rainwater, rain gutters can also funnel it into large containers.
In an interview with the Star recently, Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia chief executive officer, Andrew Sebastian, even suggested that rainwater harvesting be taught in schools while upcoming housing development should also incorporate the green strategy.
According to him, the buildings must not only have solar or alternative energies but also their own rainwater harvesting facilities. In fact, all buildings including government buildings should incorporate these.
Many countries in the world including Kenya and Australia have successfully harvested rainwater for toilets, laundry and irrigation. Those with arid environments use rainwater harvesting as a cheap and reliable source of clean water.
In Japan, rainwater is used not only for flushing toilets but also for cleaning roads. Rainwater harvesting systems are fixed beneath the concrete and asphalt for collection at main spots under public roads. And automated sensors will splash certain amount of stored rainwater onto the roads to keep them clean.
Rainwater harvesting in conjunction with urban agriculture is seen as a viable way to help meet the United Nations Sustainable Goals for cleaner and sustainable cities, health and wellbeing, food and water security.
Although rainwater harvesting has been promoted in Malaysia since 1999, its implementation as an alternative supply of water is still very limited.
With the increasing focus on sustainable programmes and to reduce climate change vulnerability, it is perhaps time for the Malaysian government to look into rainwater harvesting systems seriously and incorporate them in its development and housing policies.
In the meantime, dear friends, the next time it rains, let us run outside with an empty pail or two.