Friday, May 9, 2014


About 30 years ago, I attended a meeting at the Bankers Club Kuala Lumpur as a guest of the then Deputy Director General of the Public Works Department to listen to a talk on water. What I learned was quiet interesting.
More than 70% of the earth is covered with water but about 97% is seawater. Out of about 3% fresh water only about 1% is potable. Hence we actually have very little water to drink unless we want to melt the glaziers, condense the water vapour in the air, drain the lakes and rivers, and whatnot.
In Malaysia, all our rivers are polluted and we need to treat the water with a high dosage of chemicals to make it safe to drink. The chemicals we use in our water far exceed the recommended (or safe) dosage of the United Nations World Health Organisation by more than ten times.

In other words, we are poisoning our drinking water. Even then we are advised to boil this water before drinking it to kill the bacteria in the water. And because we are drinking chemical-laced water the incidence of cancer is very high.
This is what the Finnish Study Links Chlorinated Water to Cancer reported. “Statistically significant exposure-response association was observed between exposure to chlorinated water and incidence of bladder, kidney and stomach cancers. In an ordinary municipality using chlorinated surface water, this exposure would indicate a relative risk of 1.2 for bladder cancer and 1.2 to 1.4 for kidney cancer compared with municipalities where non-mutagenic drinking water was consumed.”
About a year or two after that talk at the Bankers Club Kuala Lumpur, I presented a paper to the Public Works Department at the request of the Works Minister, Samy Vellu. This paper was actually the same one that I presented to the Finance Minister, Daim Zainuddin, who referred this matter to the Works Minister. Daim was kind enough to give me an appointment to explain what my paper was about and after he heard what I had to say he arranged for me to meet Samy Vellu, the man in charge of this matter.
This paper was very thick, obviously, but the summary of what I was telling the government is that Malaysia’s NRW (Non-Revenue Water) averages 45% (and as high as 70% in some areas) while the UN recommended NRW is less than 20%. Hence we are more than double the international standards. And the result of this would be: in roughly 20-30 years time (in the new Millennium) Malaysia will run short of water, especially in places like the Kelang Valley.
Hence the government must do something about it.
I do not know whether this was why the government decided to privatise the water industry soon after that. But I spoke out against the Malaysian government’s privatisation plan because they only privatised the production of water and not the distribution of water, which was where the real problem of the 45% NRW lies. Hence the government is not going to solve the problem of the NRW and the possible water shortage by 2000-2010 or so if the source of the problem, the 45% NRW, is not addressed.
Unfortunately, I am not a water engineer (in fact, I am not an engineer, period). I am also not an Umno politician (in fact, I am not a politician, period). Hence no one would want to take what I say seriously (even though a number of Pengarah JKR whispered that they agreed with me but this has to be a political and not a technical decision — as is always the case in Malaysia).
Why I decided to embark on this ‘crusade’ is simple. I am a product of the 1960s. And those who were teenagers or were growing up in the 1960s would remember the three-day 1969 Woodstock Music Festival that, as far as I am concerned, changed the world.
Later, Woodstock came into the news yet again. And this time it was because Woodstock was reported to have the highest incidence of stomach cancer in the United States. And the cause of this cancer was traced to the town’s water supply and the use of AC pipes.
And Malaysia, too, used AC pipes, which the United States banned but we were still using. Hence my proposal to the government was not to produce more water by building more treatment plants but to improve the efficiency of the distribution of water by reducing the NRW by more than half and at the same time get rid of all those pipes that are a health hazard and will expose Malaysians to the risk of cancer.
Is it not ironical that we ban smoking in public places because of the risk of cancer and then we supply Malaysians with water that will give us cancer? And what will happen after 2000 when highly urbanised areas like the Kelang Valley run short of water? Will we then impose water rationing and ban the washing of cars and the watering of lawns?
That must have sounded very dramatic back in the late 1980s to early 1990s, a sort of doomsday scenario. But those living in the Kelang Valley today, 25 years or so later, might not think so.
Today, we blame the Federal Government or Umno or Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim for the dilemma that Selangor is facing. We turn this into a political issue. The fact remains that the Federal Government was warned and Anwar Ibrahim who took over from Daim Zainuddin as Finance Minister soon after that was also warned.
So, yes, the Federal Government, the Selangor Government, Umno, and so on, should be blamed. But I feel Anwar should also apologise to the nation or to the Selangor State and admit that when he was the number two in the government he failed to address this issue, which now has become a crisis for Selangor.
And is not Anwar the Economic Adviser for Selangor?
Four and a half years ago, or two and a half years after the 2008 general election, I raised this issue amongst many other issues with Anwar when he visited the UK and we met in London. Anwar’s response was that ‘we cannot listen to everything that Raja Petra Kamarudin says. He is living in the UK and he cannot tell us what to do’.
That is true. That is also the same response I received back in the 1990s. ‘Who is Raja Petra Kamarudin? He is not a water engineer.’ But do you really need to be a water engineer to know that you have no water when you open your tap and nothing comes out of it? Do you really need to be a water engineer to know that your water is dirty when the water that comes out of your tap is brown in colour?