Meeting Current Water Needs
THE 3R CONCEPT IN WATER USAGE
Dr Chan Ngai Weng and Nagaswari a/p Murugiah
Water Watch Penang
10 Brown Road, 10350 Penang
Tel: 04-2283306; Fax: 04-2267042; Email: [email protected]
The 3Rs in water usage essentially refers to Reduce, Re-use and Re-Cycle. Hence, there is a misguided belief and misconception that the 3Rs concept refers only to the reduction of water usage, the re-use of water which has been used for one type of activity for another, and the re-cycling of water (usually wastewater), be it in the home, office or industry. Undeniably, the 3Rs of water usage is important for water conservation but more significantly, since everything else is related to water use, the 3Rs should be extended to all types of consumption. For example, the more goods we consume, the more water we use. Table 1 indicates the magnitude of the water use problem. For example, if people were to make use of public transportation instead of owning private cars, we would stand to save a lot of water. Recycling of newspapers is another area where we can save water as 1 tonne of newsprint requires 750,000 litres of water to produce. Consuming more greens and cereals rather than meat would also help save water. Hence, in a nutshell, it would be in-effective if we were to merely concentrate on the 3Rs of water consumption while not practicing the 3Rs on all other consumptions. People would have to reduce, re-use and re-cycle all sorts of goods in their normal consumption in order to effectively conserve water resources.
Table 1: Some Staggering Facts About the Volume of Water Needed to Produce Some Common Goods
To Make 1 tonne of steel = 150,000 litres of H2O
To Make 1 car = 400,000 litres of H2O
To Make 1 tonne of newspaper/ newsprint = 750,000 litres of H2O
To Produce 1 tonne of wheat = 1,000 tonnes of H2O
(882,000 litres of H2O)
To Produce 1 tonne of rice (HYV) = 1,880,000 litres
To Produce 1 tonne of rice (LYV) = > 4,000,000 litres
To Produce 1 tonne of beef* = 10,000 tonnes of H2O
(Conversion of green to meat 10 %) (8,820,000 litres of H2O)
* Not including H2O that cows drink & forests destroyed for ranches.
That there is no development without water is an understatement. What we should stress is that “There is no life without water”. For most Malaysians, the value of water is something they hardly ever think about unless of course they happen to be amongst the tens of thousands who were afflicted during the water crisis in 1998. This is mostly because water comes to us rather easily. All we have to do is switch on the tap. Water is also dirt cheap - so cheap that nobody ever pays any attention to saving it in the same way as we would save electricity (Chan, 1998a). In fact the average Malaysian family’s water bill is only about 10 % of its electricity bill. Yet, water is indispensable and irreplaceable. Unlike food which one can switch from one type, for example chicken (during the boycott of chicken meat recently) to another , for example fish, beef or mutton, there is no substitute for water. One can even switch from being a carnivore or omnivore to being a herbivore but one cannot switch from being a hydrovore to anything else!
Despite being so vital, everywhere we go we see water in rivers (our main source of water supply) being polluted (often deliberately). Industries dump their hazardous wastes, which get into the water system, eventually polluting it. Untreated wastes from old houses, old hotels, small towns and farms (both animals and crops) are threatening to further pollute our waters. The Malaysian Environmental Quality Report 1998 (Department of Environment, Ministry of Science, Environment and Technology Malaysia, 1999) reported that out of 836 water samples collected from all over the country, 94.5 % did not comply with standards for oil and grease, 73.7 % did not comply for total suspended solids, and 29.7 % for E.coli (Reported in NST, 3.12.99). The most alarming fact is that less than 17 % of the 5,409 treatment plants run by IWK comply with the discharge standards detailed in the Environmental Quality (Sewage and Industrial Effluent) Regulations 1979 of the DOE (The Star, 23.12.99). In terms of toxic wastes, the high tariffs charged for treating industrial wastes have resulted in many factories dumping their wastes illegally. Of these, a small number of these culprits are caught but the rest that are not tells us that somewhere the ground is poisoned and this will eventually poison our waters as well. Every year the Department of Environment receives hundreds of complaints about water pollution from all sources: factories; companies; farms; moving sources (e.g. motorised vehicles) as well as individuals. Elsewhere, water catchments are developed haphazardly and illegally for a variety of environmentally destructive activities such as logging, resorts, highways, farming and others that lead to their destruction. There is a great deal of treated water being wasted through leakage and pipe bursts that are not quickly attended to. Due to the cheap water tariffs, industries, hotels and businesses that use a lot of water find it uneconomical to install re-cycling plants. As an example, some huge international class hotels or water-intensive industries can use more water than a small town. Even on the domestic front people are not doing anything to save water. Instead, over-usage and hence wastage is the general rule in most households. This is the current scenario we are facing now. We have had one bad experience where hundreds of thousands had to go without continuous water supply for months in 1998. This water crisis that came simultaneously with the El Nino dry spell cut water production by 50 %, affecting more than 600,000 people in the Klang Valley (The Sun, 28.3.98). If we harbour any hope of not having to endure such a painful experience again, we all need to change the way we look at water and more importantly the way we use water. Contrary to popular belief and misconception, conservation of water resources and water saving is not the sole responsibility of the government or the appointed water authority/corporation. For water conservation to be totally effective, everybody has to do his/her bit. It has to be the responsibility of all (Chan, 2000).
Malaysian Society – A Water Wasting Society
Malaysia is one of those fortunate countries in which water resources are abundant (Hj. Keizrul bin Abdullah, 1998). High rainfall all year round produces surface runoff of about 556 Billion Cubic Metres (BCM) (1 BCM = 1 million Megalitres ) of water a year or 56 per cent of the annual total rainfall, which is estimated at 990 BCM.Theoretically, the total surface runoff is the amount of available water and based on the 556 BCM per annum, lucky Malaysians enjoy a per capita renewable water of more than 20,000 cubic meters per year, as compared to some poor middle eastern water starved people with per capita renewable water of less than 1,000 cubic metres per year. That means one person in Malaysia has access to more than 20 times the water available to someone in Yemen! Yet, many parts of Malaysia are still periodically afflicted with water stress, mostly due to pollution, destruction of catchments, poor management, poor enforcement, apathetic attitude, wastage of water, and other reasons which have all contributed to reduced total available water (Chan, 1998b).
One of the glaring water issues in Malaysia is that needs to be urgently addressed is that of the high domestic water usage per capita. In the 1970s, Malaysians use only about less than 200 litres of water per capita per day (LPD). This figure then increased to about 250 LPD in the 1980s and then to more than 300 LPD now. In urban areas, it has been estimated that the average person uses about 500 LPD (Renganathan, 2000). If we consider the fact that the International Standard for water use recommended by the United Nations is 165 LPD, then the average Malaysian is guilty of wasting 135 LPD. In fact, Malaysians living in the urban areas waste more than 335 LPD, i.e. an amount sufficient to sustain six persons in Africa. In Malaysia, most of the wasted water goes to flushing toilets, bathing, washing cars, clothes, floors, watering plants (gardening) and other unnecessary chores - i.e. activities which we can reduce and hence reduce water use. As a comparison, an average Indian (in India) uses only 100 LPD and a Sudanese uses even less, about 50 LPD. One might wonder why Malaysians need to use so much water when people elsewhere can get by with so little water. The answer lies in our wasteful patterns of consumption and urban way of life. Table 2 indicates the water usage of an average person practicing water conservation in the home. According to this table, the average usage is only about 130.7 LPD. As a comparison, we look at the water usage pattern of the Chan family (2 adults) and finds that the average consumption is about 143.8 LPD. Hence, Water Watch Penang’s recommendation of 200 LPD is, for all intents and purposes, adequate. But currently, Malaysians are using between 300 – 500 LPD.
Table 2: Conservative Use of Water Per Person per Day (Litres).
Drinking - 7 litres
Cooking food - 7 litres
Brushing teeth with cup X 2 - 2 litres
Washing face with flowing tap for 2 minutes - 18 litres
1 full flush (long call) - 9 litres
5 half flush (short calls) X 5 - 31.5 litres
2 Showers of 3 minutes (half blast on & off) - 27 litres
Cleaning floors with pail & mop 5 persons - 3.6 litres
Washing car with 2 pails of water
18 litres 5 persons - 3.6 litres
Washing crockery & utensils with full sink
(1 wash & 2 rinse) 25 litres 5 persons - 5 litres
Watering plants using tin watering-can
5 litres 5 persons - 1 litre
2 X Washing clothes with full basin
(1 wash & 2 rinse) 80 litres 5 persons - 16 litres
Total Amount 130.7 litres/person/day
WWP Recommended Standard for Average Water use - 200.0 litres/person/day
International Standard for Average Water use - 165.0 litres/person/day
Average Water Use in India - 100.0 litres/person/day
Average Water Use in Africa - 50.0 litres/person/day
Table 3: Conservative Use of Water By the Chan Family (Litres Per Capita Per Day - LPD)
Period No. of Days Total Consumption Litres Per Capita Per Day
19.1.98-19.3.98 60 17,630 146.9
10.3.98-13.5.98 65 18,000 138.5
14.5.98-21.7.98 69 26,410 191.4
22.7.98-18.9.98 58 19,600 169.0
19.9.98-19.11.98 62 19,900 160.5
20.11.98-24.2.99 98 26,800 136.7
25.2.99-22.4.99 57 13,800 121.1
23.4.99-21.6.99 60 16,800 140.0
22.6.99-19.8.99 59 11,700 99.2
20.8.99-20.10.99 62 19,000 153.2
21.10.99-20.12.99 61 14,800 121.3
19.1.98-20.12.99 711 204,440 143.8
(Source: Perbadanan Bekalan Air Sdn Bhd water bills)
As a comparison, if a family were to use water extravagant manner without any form of water conservation whatsoever, then the amount of water wasted would be phenomenal. Such is the case with most urbanites in Malaysia where an average of 500 LPD is not uncommon. Table 4 confirms this irresponsible scenario amongst urban people, especially those with landed properties and a huge garden. It is ludicrous how a person in a city can use up to 526 LPD when his/her counterpart in the rural area is using merely 130.7 LPD. One may argue that the rural inhabitant has access to wells, rivers and ponds that the urban inhabitant does not. This may be true but who is to stop the urban dweller from installing a rainwater harvesting system, a recycling system and practise water saving? The sad reality is that the urban dweller simply has no time for all that, until of course the El Nino strikes again! If only each and every Malaysian could practise water saving and use the same amount of water as a rural inhabitant (something which is not impossible), then the total amount of water saved will be phenomenal.
Table 4: Extravagant Use of Water Per Person Per Day (Litres).
Drinking - 7 litres
Cooking food - 7 litres
Brushing teeth with flowing tap for 2 minutes - 18 litres
Washing face with flowing tap for 2 minutes - 18 litres
6 full flushes X 9 litres - 54 litres
2 Baths with full bath-tub X 110 litres - 220 litres
Cleaning floors with tap/hose for
10 minutes 90 litres 5 persons - 18 litres
Washing car with tap/hose for
10 minutes 90 litres 5 persons - 18 litres
2 X Washing crockery & utensils with
running tap for 10 minutes 90 litres 5 persons - 18 litres
Watering plants using tap/hose for
10 minutes 90 litres 5 persons - 18 litres
1 Wash of clothes with washing machine
(Full load) per person - 130 litres
Total Amount used by an Urbanite - 526.0 litres
(Continuation of Table 4)
Total Wastage Per Urban Person in Malaysia - 395.3 litres/person/day
(526.0 litres - 130.7 litres)
Average Malaysian Water Wastage - 233.0 litres/person/day
(The Star, 8.4.1998)
Average Malaysian Water Use - 398.0 litres/person/day
Average Urban Malaysian Water Use - 526.0 litres/person/day
Average Rural Malaysian Water Use - 130.7 litres/person/day
The above indicates that a person practising water conservation and water saving would save about 395.3 LPD. In an average household of 5 persons, the total water saved is about 1,976.5 LPD. Nationally, if all Malaysians were to save water diligently, we are looking at 3,318,543.5 million litres per year, an amount only slightly less than the total current water demand of the whole country. This really means the amount saved could sustain the whole of Malaysia for another year without having to increase the supply. If we look at Penang’s water demand alone, the amount saved by all Malaysians in a single year could theoretically sustain the whole of Penang State for 13.8 years!
Practising the 3Rs Concept in Water Usage
The 3Rs concept of water usage is the key to water saving amongst Malaysians (Chan, 1999). If only each person could reduce his/her water use, even by a small amount per day, the amount of water saved can be significant. Table 5 lists the number of measures that can be taken by individuals to reduce, re-use and re-cycle water in the home.
Table 5: Water Watch Penang (WWP)'s 20 Simple Steps to Help Conserve Water
1 Shower: Cut down the number of showers. If possible, shower only once a day after work. Switch off shower when soaping and shampooing. Do not over-use soap or shampoo as this will need more water for rinsing. Use "organic-based" soap and shampoo. They are less “soapy” and less water is needed to rinse them off. Do not switch the shower on full blast. Cut short your shower time.
2 Brushing teeth: Use a cup of water for brushing your teeth. Never let the tap run while you are brushing.
3 Washing face: Use a wet towel instead of a running tap.
4 Hair style: Short hair definitely requires less water to wash and clean. So why not do your bit to save water? After all, many have shaved their heads bald when some football team won.
5 Toilet use: Use the squatting toilet for short calls. Pour used water (from washing hands or vegetables) into toilet instead of flushing. For those without the squatting toilet, install a "dual flush" mechanism to your flush system. This system is available in the market. If not, put a brick in the cistern.
6 Washing car: Reduce car washes. If possible, stop washing your car. If you really need to (for those who really love their cars), use a bucket and a cloth. Never use a hose.
7 Recycling - Collect used water for other uses: Collect used water by putting a bucket beneath tap. Water used for washing hands, vegetables and rinsing dishes can be used again for watering plants or for flushing the toilet.
8 Rainwater harvesting: Collect rain water (if it rains) and use it for washing the car, the floor or for watering plants. In many remote kampongs and villages, rainwater harvesting from rooftops is a viable and practical method of trapping water.
9 Collecting water from upstairs: People living in houses/apartments with more than one story can ask the plumber to do a minor connection to collect used water from showering and washing hands to be re-used for watering plants or washing the car or floors.
10 Stay home more: Reduce going out, especially during the day when it is hot. You will need to drink less water, wash less clothes and take fewer showers. In fact, it also helps save money and this will help the country’s economy as well.
11 Watering plants: Use recycled water. Never use the garden host. Use a water bucket instead. Water sparingly. Put a plate under each flower pot to retain water from leaking out of the pots.
12 Cleaning floors: Never use a hose or pour water over the floor for washing. Always use a mop. Use a “no-rinse” washing liquid. Sweep the floor more often. This way, it clears dust fast and stops it from accumulating.
13 Cooking: Try not to do too much deep frying or the cooking of oily food. The cleaning and washing up of pots and pans, as well as the walls and floors after oily cooking can waste a lot of water, not forgetting the hard work. Instead, prepare more fresh food (e.g. salad and fruits) and cook more steamed food., all of which are healthier for the body. Water used for washing vegetables can also be recycled for other uses.
14 Clothing: Try to wear cotton clothes that are not too thick or woolly. For those working in air-conditioned places, clothes can be worn twice before they are washed. However, be careful not to carry it to the extreme until hygiene is sacrificed.
15 Washing clothes: Wait until a full load is accumulated before washing. Use environmentally friendly washing powder. They are less soapy and are not harmful to the environment. In fact, one can collect the effluent water from such washing powder for re-use (washing cars, watering plants. washing shoes etc.). For handwashing, use water sparingly.
16 Sports: Reduce indulging in sweaty sports that require changing a lot of clothes. For example, some sports like squash and badminton require the change of many T-shirts during one single session. Imagine coming home with all those sweaty clothes when your mother/wife has no water to wash them! Choose something like swimming or running. For all sports, use only one T-shirt.
17 River water: Those living within the vicinity of a river should attempt to use the river water for washing purposes but not as drinking water. In the remote areas, rivers are the common bath and laundret for all. However, a word of caution here: check out the quality of the river water first. If you are not sure, check with the Department of Environment.
18 Springs: Those living within the vicinity of hills should attempt to locate springs from which water can be collected. Spring water can even be used for drinking (after filtration and boiling) as well as for general washing purposes. In the remote areas and islands (such as Perhentian and Redang), springs are important water sources. However, to be sure that the water is okay, check with the Department of Environment first.
19 Wells: Wells are important water sources in the rural areas. Those living in low-lying areas (where the water table is shallow) with a large house compound can dig and construct wells. Well water can then be used for general washing but not for drinking. Built nicely to blend in with the surrounding environment, a well can be aesthetically pleasing and add character to a house. However, check with the town council/local authority concerned before you dig a well.
20 Report leakage, damage and water thefts immediately: Report leakage of all pipes and mains. Don’t wait for others to do the job or hoping/thinking that others have done it. Report all suspected water thefts to the relevant authorities. You may even get a reward for it.
If each and every Malaysian were to seriously practise water conservation, even if it were a small number of the suggested ways, the amount of water saved would be phenomenal. Picture the following scenarios:
Scenario 1: If every person in Malaysia reduces his/her average consumption of 300 LPD of water by a mere 10 %, i.e. 30 litres per capita per day, the total amount saved by the 23.26 million people (Government of Malaysia, 1996) in the country would be about 697.8 million litres per day (MLD). This amounts to about 20.9 billion litres per month or 251.2 billion litres per year.
Scenario 2: If every person in Malaysia can reduce his/her consumption of water by a mere 20 % of his/her daily needs, i.e. 60 litres per capita per day, the country could save about 1.4 billion litres per day. This amounts to about 41.9 billion litres per month or 502.4 billion litres per year.
Scenario 3: If every person in Malaysia can reduce his/her consumption of water by a drastic 50 % of his/her daily needs, i.e. 150 litres per day, the country could save about 3.5 billion litres per day. This amounts to about 104.7 billion litres per month or 1256.0 billion litres per year.
Considering the fact that in the total water demand in the whole country is about 2,000 billion litres per year, Malaysians would have saved 12.56 % (scenario 1), 25.12 % (scenario 2) and 62.8 % (scenario 3) of total water demand. The above three scenarios are taken for slight water stress (scenario 1), moderate water stress (scenario 2) and severe water stress (scenario 3). It is not impossible for a person to reduce his/her water consumption by 10 to 20 %, although arguably reducing it by 50 % would be too drastic and may lead to health and other ill effects. One cannot reduce the amount of drinking water a person needs (about 7 glasses per day) but one can certainly reduce the number of times one takes a shower, waters the plants, washes the car, mobs the floor and change the water in the aquarium. One can even reduce the number of washes by always ensuring that a wash load is full. There are, of course, numerous other ways to conserve and reduce water use (Chan, 2000). Given a concerted effort, individuals can significantly help reduce water demand and make a telling difference.
Malaysians cannot consider themselves educated, if they do not have a civic-conscious attitude or responsible way of life. In the new millennium the majority of Malaysians are already well educated, informed and affluent and they should play an increasingly active role as a “partner” of the government in helping to chart the future of the country. Malaysians cannot go on blaming the Government or water agencies/companies for all water woes, as water conservation is the responsibility of all. Hence, all Malaysians should practise the 3Rs of water usage. In fact, the 3Rs should be extended to all types of consumptive usage as the majority of all other goods need water to produce. People need to reduce, re-use and re-cycle all sorts of goods in their normal consumption in order to effectively conserve water resources.
While Government is slowly changing by employing a more “rakyat friendly” approach in consulting the rakyat in many matters, the rakyat too can no longer sit back and wait for things to happen. Total development of the country and overall welfare of the people, including the vital life-giving water supply, should always be a joint effort on the part of government and rakyat. In this respect, government should even increase the consultation and participation of the rakyat in all relevant developments. In fact, the government can go one better, and that is to tap on the expertise of the rakyat in water resource conservation and other areas. It is with this kind of partnership that we can ensure that water resources remain sustainable and our children and future generations guaranteed with adequate and clean water. In conclusion, one should never underestimate the power of the people. After all, it is the rakyat that make up the country. More importantly, the individual should never feel that his/her role is unimportant. Public participation does make a difference, if only more people take a greater responsibility in water conservation. This is where the role of parents and teachers in creating awareness and a sense of caring for water saving are so important. Equally, Government, water agencies/companies and NGOs must embark on a water education and awareness year-round programme to create greater public responsibility in the ultimate evolvement of a water saving society rather than the water wasting society that we are now.
Chan, N.W. (1998a) “Priceless water not valued”. The Star 29 July 1998, North, p. 6, 7.
Chan, N.W. (1998b) “Water: Too cheap to prompt people to save”. The Star 29 July 1998, North, p. 2, 3.
Chan, N.W. (1999) Water Conservation, ReUse and Reduction of Water Use. Paper presented in the workshop on “Sustainable Management of Water Resources in Malaysia”, 20 July, Kuala Lumpur. Organised by Global Environment Centre (GEC), Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID), National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (NAHRIM), The Malaysian Water Association (MWA), Environmental Management and Research Association of Malaysia (ENSEARCH), and Selangor Waterworks Department (JBAS).
Chan, N.W. (2000) Management of Water Use in the Home: The Key to Sustainable Management of Water in the 21st Century. Paper presented at the World Day For Water Seminar 2000, 20 & 21 March 2000, Cititel, Penang.
Department of Environment, Ministry of Science, Environment and Technology Malaysia (1999) The Malaysian Environmental Quality Report 1998. Kuala Lumpur.
Government of Malaysia (1996) Seventh Malaysian Plan 1996 - 2000. Government of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.
Hj. Keizrul bin Abdullah (1998) Hydrology for Sustainable Water Resources Planning, Development and Management in Malaysia. Keynote paper presented at the International Conference on Hydrology and Water Resources of Humid Tropics, 24-26 November 1998, Ipoh, Malaysia.
NST, Various issues.
Renganathan, M. (2000) Taking Care of Water, the Responsibility of All. Paper presented at the national Seminar on Environmental Management Plan for the Proposed Beris Dam project in Kedah Darul Aman, 28 Feb - 1 March, Sungai Petani.
The Star, Various issues.
The Sun, Various issues.