Abolish subsidies for sustainable water supply and water wastage reduction

water-wastageCAP is against any water supply subsidies that are being given to consumers in Penang and Malaysia if we are to become a water-efficient nation.  We are appalled to learn that the domestic water subsidy in Penang had reached the level of RM41 million last year.

Without appreciating the true value of water, consumers will not use water wisely. Cheap water is not the solution.  If water is too cheap, people will continue to wash their cars everyday, leave the tap running and water their gardens unnecessarily.  This has been proven in Penang.

It is wasteful for Penangites to use 286 litres of water per person per day when the national average is 202 litres (as stated in the Malaysia Water Industry Guide 2010).  286 litres is almost double the amount of per capita consumption of Singapore. The United Nation’s recommendation is 165 litres per person per day.

There is a clear relationship between water consumption and water price.  In Singapore, the price of water is RM3.62 per 1,000 litres for the first 35,000 litres consumed per month and they only consume 155 litres per person per day.  In Selangor, the price is 77 sen and they consume 235 litres per person per day.  In Penang, the price is 31 sen and we consume 286 litres per person per day.  So, the higher the price of water, the lower the consumption.  Clearly, Penang tap water is too cheap.  Surely, we can make do with less consumption. (see Table on Water Tariffs below).

In response to increasing fuel prices, people now buy more fuel-efficient cars or resort to motorcycles or bicycles.  If we study at electricity tariff increases, we see that Malaysians have learnt to conserve energy to reduce the strain on their pockets.  Many Malaysians now use energy saving bulbs, refrigerators, fans and washing machines at home.  Most importantly, they have learnt to switch off their lights.

Malaysians must also learn to turn their taps off as well because water, like petrol and energy, is a limited resource.  Our population will continue to grow but the amount of fresh water that is available to us cannot grow.  We can desalinate seawater but the cost is going to be many times more than 31 sen per 1,000 litres.

CAP welcomes the introduction of a water conservation surcharge in Penang.  If it helps to remove subsidies for water supply above 35,000 liters per month, we believe that it is the right step forward towards sustainable water supply management.  The next step is to increase domestic water tariffs below 35,000 liters per month to reflect the “real” cost in order to have sustainable water supply in future.

It is not realistic, nor is it sustainable, for us to expect PBAPP to provide better services, better quality water and sufficient water supply coverage when the “real” cost of water is not paid for. If we need more new water infrastructure, who will pay for multi-million ringgit dams, treatment plants, reservoirs, pumping stations and pipe replacement projects?

Hopefully, the removal of water supply subsidies will change the mindset of the people when it comes to reducing water wastage and irresponsible water usage.

One of the key challenges that Penang faces is the lack of raw water sources.   We are a small island state and we are highly dependent on the extraction of raw water from Sungai Muda on the mainland.  Sungai Muda originates in Kedah and Kedah is drawing water upstream.  We are drawing water downstream, after they have drawn water.

This means that in times of drought, Penangites are dependent on Kedah to leave us enough water to draw from Sungai Muda.  In the future, as the populations of both states grow, the situation will become even more perilous.

For the future sustainable water supply of Penang, Penangites will have to start using less water and the state Government should have water conservation campaigns and think of long term water conservation measures for the state. The measures can include water collection tanks, grey water usage and other water usage controls to be incorporated into the housing and industrial sectors. The other choice is to explore and develop other raw water resources.  This endeavour is not going to be easy, nor is it going to be cheap.  The key questions here are when and how much it will cost.

Subsidies  for water wastage in Penang cannot last forever and we may soon have a water supply problem.  Can we afford a water crisis?

Remember, water is a necessity, not a luxury.  If we cannot afford a car, we can use a motorcycle.  If we cannot afford a motorcycle, we can use a bicycle or the bus.  If we run out of water, we cannot drink, cook food to eat or to wash ourselves.  It is no accident that most epidemics break out in countries that have poor water supply systems.

Penangites must conserve water now or face very drastic consequences in the future.

Press Statement, 7 Oct 2010