Flush Once Less Per Day Keeps The Danger at Bay
Dr Chan Ngai Weng, President Water Watch Penang, 10 Brown Rd 10350 Penang (Tel:04-2283306; email: )
Over the past few days, The Star has carried alarming news on an impending water crisis (The Star 7 Feb 2007) and warnings for the public to conserve water or face rationing (The Star 8 Feb 2007). One might wonder why Syabas would warn the public to conserve “as much as possible…” because when people use less water, wouldn’t their profits go down? The answer is this: If the public do not heed the warnings and carry on wasting water (Malaysians use on average of over 300 litres per capita per day [LPD] compared to the UN recommended level of 165 LPD), a drought will exacerbate into a water crisis. When a water crisis happens, water service providers will be blamed. They will not be able to ask for tariff reviews and their contracts might even be terminated for their “incompetence”! They simply cannot afford a water crisis. Hence, the warnings.
Malaysians are fortunate because the country is rich in water resources. Often heavy rains result in floods (e.g. in Johor recently) and floods give policy makers and the public a false picture, as rainfall is unevenly distributed over time and space. The irony is that we still get hit by drought and water stress (not to mention poor quality piped water). The El Nino in 1997/98 not only laid bare the fragility of our water resources, but also weaknesses in its management. How else can a country with an average of 3,000 mm of rain per year and per capita renewable water resources of more than 20,000 m3 (the international water stress line is 1,700 m3) be subject to water stress and water crisis if not for mismanagement? In 1997/98. hundreds of thousands of people in many parts of the country suffered untold hardships of water cuts and water rationing for months (see The Star 8 Feb 2007 report 1998 water rationing still hard to forget).
Government must realize that it cannot keep on supplying water as the amount of water is finite but water demand is ever increasing. Consumers must be taught the value of water and how to use water wisely, i.e. not to waste water. All these years since the El Nino of 97, there have been no sustained efforts in water saving campaigns. Only recently in 2006 did the Ministry of Energy, Water and Communications (MEWC) launch a nationwide “Water Savings Campaign”. In order to ensure that the campaign is successful, the 2 year campaign should not just end after 2 years, or when the funding runs out. Such campaigns must be continuous so that the entire nation can be reached and sensitised. People need to be reminded all the time about the importance of water as there is no substitute, unlike food. Water should be used wisely, not wasted. The motto is “Make every drop count”.
Some experts have warned that El Nino is developing rapidly in recent months, but others have disputed that by saying that “El Nino is all but washed up”. Irrespective of who is right, Malaysians have to prepare for the worse and insulate themselves from another water crisis. Even during normal times without El Nino, we should be prepared. For the moment, let us just assume it is coming and prepare our responses to address it. Naturally the government cannot increase our water supply capacity overnight as building a dam or treatment plant takes years. So what we can do right now is getting people sensitized and getting them to be ready. The idea is to get all water consumers on board and start getting them to save water right away. Once people get used to the idea of saving water, they will feel less pain and stress when the government issues a water rationing order. One easy and painless way to start is to get everyone to reduce water use by flushing once less per day. This is easily done as one does not need to flush the toilet after every pee. The average person urinates about five to seven times a day. Flush once after every two pees. But do so to ensure that hygiene is not jeopardized. Close the toilet cover or put some pandan leaves in the toilet to reduce smell. One flush is about 9 litres of water. If every Malaysian flushes one flush less per day, we will save 234 million litres of water per day! This amount of water can fill up approximately 10 medium size dams, and the water saved can then be utilized during a drought or El Nino. For other water saving tips, please visit our website: www.waterwatchpenang.org