Expect more water wastage now that it's free

Expect more water wastage now that it’s free

I READ with trepidation what was reported about the announcement by the new Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim to waive charges for the first 20 cubic metres of water used by households in Selangor. The move is a serious mistake that ought to be rectified immediately.  

While it might hoodwink some ignorant people, this free water would actually only see domestic users saving up to RM11.40 a month. This amount is small to negligible, even among the poor or hardcore poor.  

The first 20 cubic metres should be charged at a minimal fee, say RM5, but never given free. Most people do not value whatever is given “free”.  

It would be far more effective to increase the tariff for heavy users such as those households using more than 20 cubic metres a month. For example, the 21st to 30th cubic metres should be charged double the existing rate, the 31st to 40th cubic metres double again, progressing geometrically all the time.  

Noble as Khalid’s intentions are, giving the first 20 cubic metres of water free will inevitably send out the wrong message. Already, Malaysians tend to overuse water to the tune of about 300 litres/person/day (LPD). The international standard is only about 165 LPD. Singaporeans use about 150 LPD, while people in India and Africa use 100 LPD and 50 LPD respectively.  

Water is never “free” and surely people will take it for granted and would not care any more about saving water. How then can we create a caring society? The Mentri Besar should not forget that people in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur will soon have to use water from Pahang as both Selangor and Kuala Lumpur have run out of water. They should start saving water and controlling their water demands.  

Instead, giving them free water would surely lead people to believe that Selangor has rich water resources, which it doesn’t, and inevitably increase water demands and kill whatever minimal conservation efforts there are. 

If Malaysian society is to change from a “water-wasting society” to a “water-saving society”, we must never give free water. Don’t start with Selangor. It is a bad precedent. 

PROF DR CHAN NGAI WENG, 

President, Water Watch Penang.  

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