Water, water everywhere but — Bob Teoh

MARCH 31 — I celebrated World Water Day last week without a drop of water in sight. The taps have run dry. This is surely an irony of life as highlighted by the English poet Samuel Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1834) – “Water, water, everywhere,/Nor any drop to drink.”

We can blame the Barisan government which has done nothing except to allow its cronies to make money out of the multi-billion ringgit water privatisation project since 1994.

But didn’t we throw out a seemingly corrupt regime in the 2008 General Elections and again last year and put in place a government of our choice, Pakatan Rakyat.

And what is Pakatan doing in their second term in office? They reversed what Barisan did by agreeing to take back water concessions from the Barisan cronies, to the tune of RM9.65 billion and the final bill can balloon to as high as RM20 billion.

With a population of 5.46 million in the state, this means that every man, woman and child living in Selangor has to pay RM3,663 each. The bad news is that even after paying all this billions, there is no guarantee our taps will be running again.

Both sides of the political divide cannot claim any propriety rights over water. It is a gift of God. Their only job is to see to the good management of our water resources.

Access to safe and clean water, like air, is a fundamental human right. Both the federal and state governments must see to it that this remains so. Otherwise both must be indicted for gross human right violation, or gross negligence, or both.

It was a diabolical conspiracy when the federal government and Selangor government signed a memorandum of understanding on the agreement last month to restructure the state’s water industry.

The basic question is over the management of our water resources. We have plenty of this. The controversial Bakun hydro-electricity dams cover a land mass of twice that of the size of Singapore. And yet we do not have enough water.

The ancestral land of fifteen ethnic communities, made up of Orang Ulus like the Kenyahs, Kelabits and Penans, have been inundated to make way for the dams. There are now re-settled on higher grounds in nearby Kampung Sungai Asap. All of them do not have access to clean water supply now. Their water source is not from Bakun anymore but from areas now given over to recently opened oil palm plantations, probably contaminating the water source. This again is national scandal.

We have so much water that we can afford to sell it Singapore for three sen per thousand litres in raw form and Singapore, with its characteristics foresight, then treats it and sells “our” water back to us for 50 sen, 16 times the price we sell it to them. How come?

Water has become such an important security concern that the United Nations have deemed it necessary to have a World Water Day (WWD) each 22 March for global concern and action.

Consider a few of the highlights from WWD:

Energy is needed at all stages of water extraction, treatment and distribution. Energy generation and transmission requires utilisation of water resources including for hydroelectric, nuclear and thermal energy sources.

Globally, 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity, 768 million people lack access to improved water sources and 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation. Water and energy have crucial impacts on poverty alleviation. Poor water quality and bad sanitation are deadly. Some 5 million deaths per year are caused by polluted drinking water. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that providing safe water could prevent 1.4 million child deaths from diarrhoea each year.

Now consider some more hydrological data. According to the US –based Pacific Institute, Malaysia has a renewable water resource of 580 km3/year compared to Singapore’s 0.6 km3/year. This means that Malaysia has nearly a thousand times more water than Singapore. And yet I do not have enough water to brush my teeth with the current water rationing!

According to Singapore’s Public Utilities Board website, over the last 50 years, through strategic planning and investment in research and technology, Singapore’s national water agency PUB has built a robust and diversified supply of water known as the ‘Four National Taps’. The water supply comprises local catchment water, imported water, highly-purified reclaimed water known as NEWater, and desalinated water.

The pillar of Singapore’s water sustainability is NEWater which is reclaimed water produced from treated used water that is ultra-clean and safe to drink. By 2060, NEWater capacity can meet up to 55 per cent of Singapore’s future water demand.

Another technology-based water source is desalinated water. Singapore has one of Asia’s largest seawater reverse-osmosis plant. By 2060, desalination water can meet up to 25 per cent of its water demand in the long term. Its second bilateral water agreement with Malaysia expires in 2061

Today, Singapore’s vibrant water ecosystem has a thriving cluster of 100 international and local water companies and 25 research centres, according to PUB. Singapore is set a global hydrohub.

Guess who’s the brains behind Singapore’s NEwater? A thirty something Dr Adrian Yeo, a Malaysian, founder of two previous start up companies, with a PhD in 2007 and recipient of several awards, including the Nanyang Award for Humanity, Asian Development Bank’s Water Champion and the Watermark Award.

We are not only giving away our water virtually free to Singapore we are also giving away our priceless brains Dr Yeo’s.

It’s all about good management not multi-billion ringgit racketing of our water resources like the Selangor water secret deal between Barisan and Pakatan.

This is a national scandal and the Pakatan led state government, particularly its Mentri Besar, Khalid Ibrahim, as well as Dr Maximus Ongkili, Water, Green Technology and Energy Minister, must give a full accounting for this insanity. Their sleight of hand is nothing more than robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online. 

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