Charging for drinking water is evil

JUNE 14 — Should restaurants offer free drinking water?

I know they should, so I asked Sepang Council’s legal adviser 10 years ago.

She was polite, and in summary told me it was not an easy matter, the business to pass a by-law.

A survey was necessary, the cost had to be weighed, and general information had to be gathered, I was told.

She gave every reason not to do it, but never presented one reason to do it.

It appears behind the façade of niceness and education, she could not put herself in the shoes of Joe Public.

It was the first months of Pakatan Rakyat’s rule of Selangor, and with so many bumps on the road already for the new administration under the shadows of the Barisan Nasional federal government, I never pursued the issue.

But here we are, with all of the Semenanjung west coast minus Perlis under Pakatan Harapan, and with positive waves in Borneo affording the coalition a two-thirds majority. In these better days, I’d moot the idea again.

This time with such political force behind, why not pass federal law to mandate free water in all restaurants? Or better, that drinking water is a right.

As in restaurants have to serve water, malls must have drinking fountains or dispensers and government will match the endeavour at their facilities.

If Pakatan’s core ambition is to reduce cost of living, then free potable water would do exactly that. And it will cost this government very little, except the ire of irate business owners.

Though, it does appear it costs little to offer water. It’s not the water that bothers them, but rather the opportunity cost of customers not choosing the litany of priced drinks — read as diabetes enhancing drinks.

But, honestly, what kind of business model seeks to benefit itself by penalising consumers? Because by charging for water, they dissuade patrons from upping their water intake.

How do they, I mean McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Kenny Rogers or KFC justify their insane need to look caring for the masses through their CSR projects but would rather citizens of Asia’s fattest country to falter at the weighing counter because they actively encourage sugary drinks consumption by charging for water?

I don’t expect them to answer the question.

But governments must, and surely this government can.

There will be no objections from the health minister, human resources minister or for the matter any minister.

An obese population is not the one set to compete with the world. And so many of their problems, like health costs, loss of non-employment and no shows at work are overcome with water. How can they blame water?

Water does what?

Firstly, water intake replaces the need for other drinks, which are primarily sugary, and therefore they compound, as previously mentioned, health concerns. Water intake increases resting energy expenditure, which is a cool way of saying it ups the burning of calories, which sheds weight.

Second, with a price on water, the cola drinkers don’t even temper the sugar with great H2O.

In a tropical climate it’s criminal to lack water intake, so, does that by inference suggest those who seek to reduce water intake are criminal too?

Here are another group who would love it, the environmentalists. When water is available from dispensers the need to buy bottled water goes down, and with it the plastic bottles. A large chunk of the landfills is plastic waste, not the least from bottled water.

Water’s goodness is not limited to just weight gain, there are endless practical benefits, however, the effort to get it to the people seems to be lacking.

Step by step

If restaurants relent, then it should be the government’s next task to ensure all public spaces have water fountains or dispensers. At a time all state governments mull the need to follow Selangor’s 10-year-experimentation with limited free water, perhaps the federal government can care for millions of Malaysians by providing access to potable water everywhere.

Though caution is necessary.

When we put five water dispensers in my old school, they quickly went to disrepair. The unit purchase must be accompanied by maintenance cost for a duration. The school cared little if the filter went bad or pipes got disconnected. The experiment failed.

It is a basic expenditure and government should invest in the means to keep our children healthy, and the adults too.

The global kerfuffle

Tubs, a friend, always argues the side of business owners. We are always in dead heats. He likes the free market, but only a fool expects the market to behave in the interest of the weakest in society.

Bars in Britain must offer free water. In Iceland and the United States, it would be odd for a restaurant not to offer water. Some countries say the water can be free but the restauranteur can charge for the glass. In Singapore, business owners say rising costs force them to charge for water.

The conversation is ongoing around the world, near and far.

It is a non-starter here, and perhaps the only contribution of this column is to encourage that conversation.

It appears to be trivial, but that’s what they said about soap. But the difference of life expectancy today to 500 years ago would have a lot to do with personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness, which we owe to cleaning agents.

Truth is, the best efforts are not excitable, but they get the job done, of exalting our quality of life.

And in a law to give more people more opportunities and incentives to drink water, the job of living better in Malaysia can be realised.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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