Human Rights, Environment & Social Studies UTAMA z10

The Unpleasant Surprise: Water Scarcity and the Impending Crisis

The importance of water has been mandated by the United Nations (UN) in 2010 where Resolution 64/292 was passed. This resolution recognized access to clean water (roughly 50-100 litres per person per day) as human rights. It also believed that in the not-so-distant future, water will be a valuable resource like oil and natural gas.

The water usage does not constrict to domestic usage, agricultural or manufacturing only. In countries like China and India, the robust population growth and economic growth also means growth in substantial energy consumers. In a report published in 2012, the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) stated that it powers up to 88% of China and serves the area populated by over 1 billion people, indirectly making it the world largest electric utility supplier. The issue with so much electrification is how much resources it requires to generate them, and in this energy, it is water.

The illusion of fixity and inexhaustibility of water resources was considered as a gift from the environment. This preconception has started the tradition of careless attitude in the water usage along with the concept that it requires minimum expense to purify wastewater or for the protection of water bodies. This can be illustrated with the pollution cases such as the Kim Kim River in Johor a couple of years ago. The pollution was caused by illegal discharge from the factories which are toxic and hazardous. The issue is not new to the residents, having to put up with pollution from untreated waste and chemical waste direct to the river. However, when it received its limelight in March 2019, it caused human health implications which trigger governing bodies to immediately react to it.

Day Zero: Lessons from Cape Town

‘Day Zero’ is the term used to describe the Cape Town’s municipal water supply would be shut off. When Cape Town Africa announced Day Zero in January 2018, the metropolis took a huge step back. Especially when the thriving city are very established with beach front resorts, sprawling businesses and mining activities. The crisis was averted due to a drastic change implemented by the city, which includes drastic reduction in water-intensive agriculture and wine industries, community water usage practice, rationing of water, and better management of water resources. In the year 2020, the South African parched dams are now over 80% full, and the crisis has been averted. In the days leading to Day Zero, the City of Cape Town has outlined the foundations for a sustainable water in the future. To reduce demand of water, among the water initiatives introduced was to shower no longer than two minutes and promote the use of recycle water or greywater. Residents were restricted to 50 litres of water a day, banning filling up swimming pools, washing cars and water fountains. They fined household with high usage of water. Hard limits of agricultural water quota were introduced, and repairs were conducted to the leaking pipelines.

Malaysians are no stranger to water issues as well. Residents in the Klang Valley area are now used to water interruptions due to maintenance, scheduled or unscheduled due to pollutions to the raw water resources. In some parts of Malaysia, access to clean water is still a challenge. Therefore, we should exercise caution when dealing with water. The sense of entitlement, the illusion of fixity and inexhaustibility of water resources should be corrected to ensure we will have a sustainable supply of water in the future.

There is no replacement for water, there could be alternatives like desalinization of salt water or treated reclaimed water like NEWater in Singapore. But it will never replace the real water. Despite being called the blue planet, only 3% of water is fresh water. It fills the ground water called the aquifers, surface water like streams, rivers and lakes and in snow.

The environment deserves our protection from harm, and at the same time providing a sustainable lifeline for mankind to develop. The environmental surprises will set as a trigger point for us to review our ways in handling the natural resources. Water scarcity is also a part of climate change effect, where prolong draught will impact the rainfall intake into the water reservoir. In some ways, we cannot rely on the environmental ecosystem to adjust itself into our social systems which is ever growing.

The correct approach is to educate consumers on the scarcity of the resources like fresh water. Based on the findings of scholars, the perception of entitlement to resources or the consumption of resources is educable. Thus, it is not too late to spread awareness on the urgency to change our lifestyle and become more environmentally responsible.