EVERY year, the Benjamin Franklin House in London – in the 18th century, the multi-talented American lived there for nearly 16 years – challenges young writers to explore the current relevance of a quote by Franklin. This year, it is this line fromPoor Richard’s Almanack: “When the Well’s dry, we know the Worth of Water”.
Several million people in Malaysia can each offer a literal and heartfelt interpretation of that.
Some parts of the country are facing a severe dry spell that has transformed the lives of those affected into a daily pattern of inconvenience, worry and weather watching.
Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya are the hardest hit.
With yesterday’s announcement of an extension of the ongoing water rationing programme, 1.34 million households or 6.7 million people can no longer take for granted that there will be water every time a tap is turned on.
Other states too are nervously monitoring the water level of their dams.
We may well be inches away from the Government declaring a water emergency.
Everybody is hoping not just for rain, but for adequate rain in the right places.
If we are lucky, that will happen soon and rationing can stop.
But that will not be the end of our water woes. The threat of global warming remains. If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, the world’s freshwater resources will be at risk.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, each degree of warming is projected to decrease renewable water resources by at least 20% for an additional 7% of the global population.
Also, climate change is expected to lower raw water quality, which in turn requires more treatment to make it potable.
There is no question that we have to change the way we consume water.
We cannot afford to act as if there is an infinite supply of water and that there is no cost to being wasteful with it.
The fact that rationing in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya has resulted in a mere 7% drop in the demand for water tells us that we have a lot more to do to save water.
Part of the solution lies in the hands of those who manage the country’s water resources. Ultimately, their policies and actions influence how water is supplied and consumed.
At the Federal level, the National Water Services Commission regulates the water services industry, and the Government-owned Pengurusan Aset Air Bhd (PAAB) acquires and develops the nation’s water infrastructure.
Arguably, the state governments have an even bigger role because they have the power to declare and regulate water resources, water catchment areas and river basins.
They are in a position to not only manage the resources, but also to safeguard them.
They can do so by ensuring that progress and development do not put the states’ water resources in harm’s way.
That means approval of activities such as property development, logging and manufacturing must take into account the impact on water supply. Anything short of this brings us closer to another water crisis.
And there is a quick fix for modifying the people’s attitude to water, at least for Selangor.
The state government’s practice of giving 20 cubic metres of free water a month does not encourage prudent use of water. If the aim is to help those in need, a targeted subsidy should be the answer.
People need to truly understand the true value of water. Sure, we may realise its worth when the taps run dry. But by then, it may be too late.
The STAR Home News Opinion The STAR SAYS April 2, 2014