(Malaysian Digest) - Selangor will certainly face a critical water crisis if the state government remains stubborn by continuing to block the construction of the Langat 2 water treatment plant, a water management expert warned today.
Dr Ahmad Zaharuddin Sani Ahmad Sabri said providing treated water was a most important responsibility of the state government and the Langat 2 plant remained the only alternative means for the state to have adequate supply of treated water because all existing treatment plants had exceeded their production capacity.
"Without this alternative plan, the people and industries in Selangor will run out of treated water as we have reached the maximum production level. We have come to the stage of requiring a new solution and new alternative. And in the immediate term, Langat 2 is the only solution," he said in an interview.
Dr Zaharuddin Sani uses a simple "nasi lemak " analogy to explain the situation. "If we need 500 packets of nasi lemak to be given to 500 people, then it's enough. But if we only have 500 packets and there are 520 people to eat the nasi lemak, then it won't be enough."
He rubbished the Selangor government's free-water policy and called for a review of the policy because, he said, water was a precious asset for any nation and should no longer be deemed as something cheap, let alone given free.
Following is the Q & A from the interview:
Q: Will the Langat 2 plant overcome all water problems in Selangor?
A: At the moment, when we talk about Langat 2 being able to solve our water problems, the answer is yes, because we need treated water. Based on a very high current demand, we need Langat 2 as the solution. But even this solution is temporary in nature. Why I'm saying temporary is because in the future we will have 1,000 people who want to eat the nasi lemak and even if we have new dams, it's not going to be effective compared to the most important approach for us to adopt from now -- to educate the people to use water wisely.
We must recognise our water as an asset that no longer can be viewed as something cheap. Water can no longer be regarded as something to be given free. Water should be seen as something very valuable. If we compare one litre of bottled water and one litre of oil, the price is about the same, so we should appreciate the value of water. But why is it that we can conserve the use of oil and not when it comes to water?
So what's the solution? Because we ourselves don't realise that water is something very valuable. If we do realise how precious it is, then certainly we will be very cautious in using it.
Back to the question of Langat 2. Yes, it is absolutely necessary. And, at the same time, it should be followed with massive efforts to educate consumers on the real value of water, so that we won't need a Langat 3.
Q: So, it means that the Selangor government's policy of giving free water is something unwise?
A: There is nothing free in this world, and the water that's given is treated water. Treated water requires cost to produce. If we require cost, we need money. So, if we give free water, then we devalue this vital commodity and no one will value something that's given free.
If we increase the water tariff, just like in Europe, we could see consumers place a high value on water in terms of their attitude towards water consumption as they look at water as a vital asset.
But if we are provided with unlimited water everywhere and, worst of all, provided free, we will lose our sense of value over water. So, the move to give free water should be reviewed.
Q: Langat 2 is a solution but it still doesn't exist due to the state-federal conflict. What's the implication?
A: The implication is that we won't be able to provide adequate treated water to consumers while, at the same time, we can say we have sufficient water sources. Based on this assumption, we need to conserve our water resources. We just cannot dream that tomorrow we'll have more than what we have today. We must live in reality. If we have so much today, we have to adopt accordingly. And if Langat 2 remains unresolved, we then need a new solution.
Among the solutions over the longer term is educating the people on water consumption and control on the supply of water.
Q: The capacity yield of rivers in Selangor that provide the main sources of raw water to the treatment plants is reported to be reaching the maximum. Will this undermine the supply of treated water?
A: To treat water, we need raw material which, in this case, is raw water. But if we want to treat something and the raw material is not available, so there's nothing to treat.
Yes, it's true to say that currently the capacity has reached its maximum. If we don't have raw water to treat, we can't produce treated water to supply to consumers.
So, if we think of our rivers, dams that have reached their maximum, we have reached a stage where we need to look at new alternatives.
Q: You have cited studies that show each Malaysian uses an average of 310 litres of water per day (lpd), which is 145 litres more than what consumers in other countries use. Can you elaborate?
A: It's 145 litres per person. If one household has five residents, then the consumption is five times more. Imagine the millions of litres in excess consumption per household. This is the study by the United Nations that stipulates consumption at 145 lpd per person. But in Malaysia, the consumption is very excessive in every sense of the word.
Q: The Selangor government says that Langat 2 is not necessary because the ongoing mitigation projects are able to cope with the demand? Is this so?
A: The Selangor government only plans things for the short term. It looks at adequate water up to 2014. In contrast, the planning done by the federal government is over the long term, stretching more than 20 years.
Langat 2 is necessary for this period. At present, we might not see water problems as something critical because, everywhere we go, there's water in the tap. But, try to imagine the situation five years from now. Would we still have this luxury?