Water — the unsung hero

Posted on March 22, 2011. Filed under: Water resource |

Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR: “Looks like teh tarik!”. That was the description over the colour of some of the raw water supplied to Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas) treatment plants.

(Teh tarik is a favourite hot beverage among Malaysians. Its colour is light brown due to the blend of tea powder and condensed milk).

Occassionally, take a glance at the rivers around you. Some of these ‘lazy but trusted’ rivers have not failed in supplying the raw water for treatment plants.

The water which had been reduced its quality due to pollution, needs to be treated before it is ready for consumption. And the cost of treating raw water is not cheap.

Not only the water is of ‘teh tarik’ in colour, but in some rivers the water is murky with sediments and even emits foul odour. It is a bitter fact but at the same time it is the truth.

The river which gets its water from rainfall should be giving us clean water but what happens is the otherwise. Are we concerned that rivers, which are mother nature’s gift to us, are being continuously abused and neglected? For instance in Selangor, it has been reported out of the 37 rivers in the state, water from only 32 rivers can be treated for consumption.

Nowadays,a river is treated like a huge garbage bin. How could a ‘civilised’ society allows this to happen?

Despite being supplied garbage bins by the local authorities, there are those who preferred to take the easy way out by turning the rivers into huge garbage disposal bins and heaping various ‘refuse’ on the riverbanks.

In Selangor alone, 990 tonnes of garbage were fished out from rivers in a month with Penang and Johor ‘contributing’ 300 tonnes and 240 tonnes respectively. The irresponsible act (of garbage dumping into rivers) as well as agriculture and industrial activities have not only polluted the water but destroyed the ecosystem there.

To the extent that if the activities are left unchecked, the water quality in the rivers would deteriorate into that beyond treatment and no longer fit for human consumption.

Studies revealed that water in some rivers contain heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead that are not only harmful to humans but also hazardous to the rivers’ habitat. And worse still, there are some who not only dump garbage into rivers, but turn them into watery graves for child born out of wedlock.

The story does not end with polluted river water. Even treated water is not given the concerns despite being priceless to life.

Abdul Halem Mat Som, Syabas Executive Director (Corporate Affairs) said some quarters of the Malaysian society do not view water as a priceless commodity.

To them, being supplied with water is ‘an easy job’ and water serves not more than a mere neccessity.

“They only want to see water gushing out from their taps. If there is no water (out), then they will be making noise. When there is water, they don’t care much. Some are even reluctant to pay their water bill even though the charge is low. This is among the things that have happened.

“The people in rural areas are more concerned if their water supply was stopped if they failed to pay the water bill unlike those in the urban zones. That is why more urban dwellers had their water supply stopped even though they are in the middle income group.

“Most of the times the public see water as having no value, similar to the fate of the unsung hero, even though water is a major need in our life,” he told Bernama in an interview at his office in Jalan Pantai Baharu here recently.

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Prof Dr Chan Ngai Weng has similar views in that Malaysians do not appreciate the importance of water.

Why is that so? Prof Chan believes that there are a number of reasons to this issue with the price of water being the primary factor. The geography professor said the water tariff in most states is being heavily subsidised.

“The domestic users are not paying the cost price (of water treatment and supply).

For example in Penang, the cost of water production is about 65 sen for a cubic metre but the domestic users are only paying for only 31 sen for each cubic metre.

“Hence it is clear that the government is subsidising 34 sen per each cubic metre of the water supplied to domestic users.

“When water gets (so) cheap, people will not bother to save or conserve water. It is time to penalise those who waste water by increasing the tariff,” said Prof Chan who is also the president of Water Watch Penang (WWP).

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