In Malaysia: Water shortage

Drought forcing states to start water rationing
Teo Cheng Wee, Straits Times 13 Mar 10;

KUALA LUMPUR: One plastic water tank and eight colourful pails crowd the porch of Mr Mohammad Insani's home in Negeri Sembilan these days.

His taps ran dry two weeks ago, and he has had to make do with this system for his family of 12 since.

This state - and others including Johor, Malacca and Kedah - has been suffering from a month-long drought. Affected states received half the average rainfall for this time of year, causing crops to fail and forcing some areas to start water rationing.

Nilai town, where Mr Mohammad lives, is 45 minutes from Kuala Lumpur and one of the areas where water is being rationed. Water supply in KL city and its suburbs has not been affected.

Almost 20,000 people in Nilai are affected and water-filled pails can be seen in many houses in Mr Mohammad's estate. Tap water runs only from 8pm to 8am daily. The state water agency, Sains, imposed that timetable when water levels at the district's treatment plant plunged last month. Sains said this was caused by the unprecedented drying up of a river that supplies water to the district.

'We try not to cook, clean or wash clothes at home these days,' said Mr Mohammad, 25. 'Everyone just showers once a day.'

On Thursday, the government said it was prepared to implement a 'drought contingency plan' involving water rationing and cloud seeding if the dry spell persists.

Serious droughts hit Malaysia every few years. Extreme weather and El Nino are being blamed for the latest bout of dryness. It has affected other South-east Asian countries too, and is expected to last till at least the end of the month.

In the past, people have also blamed rapid urban growth and pollution, as well as the weather for contributing to the problem. But activists and politicians are now focusing on another problem - the wasteful nature of Malaysians.

When the dry spell hit his state last month, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng announced that his government was 'seriously considering' imposing a severe fine on those who waste water.

According to the latest water statistics, the average Malaysian uses 25 per cent more water than what the United Nations recommends.

The biggest culprits live in Penang. People there use 286 litres a day, much more than the UN's 165-litre mark. By comparison, Singapore's daily domestic usage is 158 litres.

Penang has the cheapest water rate in Malaysia, at 31 sen (13 Singapore cents) per cubic metre. Singapore's tariffs are seven times higher, said Mr Lim.

That has prompted some to propose higher rates for water. But raising the prices of necessities is a sensitive issue and several politicians have spoken out against it. So the government is looking at other ways to minimise water shortages in the future.

One suggestion is tapping into groundwater, extracted using wells. But financial concerns have been raised, with each well estimated to cost US$2 million (S$2.8 million).

Rainwater harvesting could also be made compulsory, a minister said recently. This means residents are required to install tanks on their roofs to collect rainwater. This is used for non-essential cleaning purposes and studies have shown that this can reduce water consumption by about 40 per cent.

But opposition MP and water activist Charles Santiago feels the country needs to embark on a major sustained campaign: 'Malaysians have a perennial carefree attitude towards water. This is why some people don't fix leaks, or leave their taps running. We need to educate them about such behaviour.'

As for Negeri Sembilan, Sains said it is fixing the problem by channelling water from another source to Nilai, and building a new treatment plant. By 2012, Nilai should be less prone to droughts.

But all that seems distant to Mr Mohammad. His family has to continue rationing water until the shortage eases. 'I can't wait for this to be over,' he said.

Malaysia wilts in the heat
Straits Times 13 Mar 10;

# Johor: A month-long water rationing exercise affecting 25,000 residents in central Kluang district was recently extended by another month, until mid-April. The popular Kota Tinggi waterfall has dried up. The state government has set aside RM500,000 (S$211,000) for cloud seeding.

# Sarawak: Dry weather has caused rice shortages in the rural farmlands of interior Sarawak, as harvests plunged by 70 per cent. Emergency rice supplies had to be delivered to several settlements. Rivers in the mountainous, remote regions of Bario and Bakelalan have dried up.

# Negeri Sembilan: Water is being rationed in Nilai, with the unprecedented drying up of the Batang Benar river that supplies the area. Water levels plunged to half of the normal level, triggering water rationing that has affected almost 20,000 residents.

# Kelantan: The state government held prayers for rain yesterday, as some 26,000ha of padi fields in Kota Baru, Pasir Puteh, Bachok and Tumpat districts have been affected by the drought. The authorities estimate possible losses of up to RM52 million if the drought persists.

# Sabah: The lucrative palm oil industry here is struggling to deliver as its fruits wilt in the heat. Sabah produces a quarter of Malaysia's palm oil and experts worry that the country may not meet its target output this year if the bad weather persists.

El Nino's impact felt elsewhere
Straits Times 13 Mar 10;

# Thailand: Rice production in the world's largest rice-exporting nation is likely to suffer as drought is spreading in 36 of Thailand's 76 provinces, mostly in the north and north-east. The Mekong river is at its lowest level in 30 years near Thailand's border with Laos, Bloomberg reported.

# Vietnam: Vietnam's severe drought - possibly the worst in a century - has hit the country's electricity sector as reservoirs run out of water to feed hydropower plants. Fires are burning throughout the country's bone-dry north and tinderbox conditions threaten the south, Time Magazine reported.

# China: More than 11 million people and eight million livestock are facing a shortage of drinking water in southern China's worst drought in 50 years, CCTV reported last month. Many reservoirs have all but dried up.