Will crispy chicken rendang diplomacy ever apply to water? — Azira Aziz

APRIL 12 — When UK Masterchef’s John Torode riled up Malaysians, Singaporeans, Indonesians and even Bruneians by saying that chicken rendang should be crispy, he achieved what no diplomat has achieved since Asean over insult on a much loved dish: Unity. The regional uproar over food, however, does not apply towards water scarcity.

Singapore relies on Malaysia for 60 per cent of their water, which makes them at the mercy of the state of Johor’s water management system. Jakarta, Indonesia is experiencing water scarcity from years of drilling directly from their groundwater aquifers. Even Brunei has water scarcity in certain areas.

The truth is, none of the Asean countries can stand alone in solving their water scarcity, supply, distribution and sanitation problems. And yet there is no successful regional collaboration in addressing this issue.

In 2016 World Vision International launched an initiative called Asia P3 Hub which focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. The fact that such an initiative exists is an acknowledgement that there is a problem that the countries could not on their own solve.

On the private sector, Singapore launched their business-oriented once every two years Singapore International Water Week, which is happening this year of 2018.

There is an understanding that water scarcity is a regional problem and collaboration, instead of focusing on national interest would result in a win-win situation instead.

Water is so essential that the World Economic Forum 5 has predicted that a global food crisis could be triggered due to worsening water security situation in the next 15 to 20 years, with shortfalls of up to 30 per cent in rice and other cereal production.

Back home, the water concern in Malaysia is arguable both supply and consumption of water. We consume too much, and demand is growing to the point that our supply simply could not keep up with growth.

According to Malaysia Water Industry Guide 2017, in 2016 the output capacity (ability to produce treated water) from water treatment plants for the state of Penang had the highest water reserve margin at 34.1 per cent, followed by Labuan (29.2 per cent); Perak (28.7 per cent); Terengganu (27.2 per cent); Negri Sembilan (22.1 per cent); Pahang (21.4 per cent); Sarawak (20.7 per cent); Melaka (20.1 per cent); and, Johor (16.4 per cent). Our national water margin average is at 13.2 per cent. Selangor had only 4 per cent.

Let’s focus on Selangor. The most recent water crisis hit Selangor hard. When a surge water system in Water Treatment Plant SSP 3 exploded, it caused extensive damage which sent six engineers and technicians to the hospital.

It also left roughly 427 areas or 500,000 accounts in the Klang Valley high and dry. The reason being simply because Selangor does not have enough water reservoir or buffer zone to accommodate emergencies when it happens.

This has severe repercussions on our economic growth. Malaysia’s Real Estate and Housing Development Association (Rehda) recently released a statement saying that more than 700 developed properties in the Klang Valley could not attain Certificates of Completion and Compliance (CCCs) due to problems related to the water supply.

Four hundred home owners in Selangor and 300 home owners in Kuala Lumpur could not move into their completed homes.

Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, however, said there was no water shortage because the state completed the RM177.5 million Semenyih 2 Water Treatment Plant in Dengkil on March 1. It was merely the accident that caused the recent water disruption.

Fact remains that there need to be recognition that current water woes is beyond the state and even national body’s ability to solve on our own. We need help. We need expertise, more importantly we need political willingness to solve a problem instead of pointing fingers towards one another.

Malaysia could seek out collaboration with Asean countries in order to address water concerns in a more effective manner. There is a need for an Asean Water Governance Index which is taken seriously as a comparative yardstick to see whether public service is done properly.

There should be more planning, design and technology sharing between countries, particularly those interconnected in water resource and supply like Johor, Malaysia and Singapore.

* Azira Aziz is MPP candidate and SICE Community Empowerment Chair, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

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

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