VII. ISSUES AND PROBLEMS: SOME POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
L. Clean water
Water pollution is largely caused by domestic sewage in Kuala Lumpur city, but industrial wastes compound the problem. Water supplies are contaminated by disease-bearing human waste and, in some cases, by toxic chemicals and heavy metals that are hard to remove from drinking water with standard purification techniques. Groundwater resources are also becoming increasingly polluted by industrial wastes as well as increasing salinity as a result of overplump. Given the lack of water treatment or alternative clean water sources, water contamination is a major health hazard.
Use of polluted water spreads diseases like cholera. According to the World Development Report 1992 of the United Nations Development Programme, water pollution is the most serious environmental problem facing developing countries because of its direct effect on human welfare and economic growth. Comprehensive water resource management, which encompasses the socio-economic problems of urban water pollution but takes a macro view encompassing the multifarious demands (i.e. urban, industrial and agricultural) on the water resources, will be one the most difficult issues to be faced in the future.
The impacts of urban water pollution on the health and welfare of the population have to be dealt with on two fronts: the provision of safe water supplies and the reduction of effluents. On the water supply side, action is required to improve cost recovery, conserve water, maintain infrastructure, establish financially strong and commercially oriented delivery institutions, and establish independent and effective regulatory institutions. On the pollution control side, the problem can be divided into municipal and industrial waste.
There is evidence of increasing public willingness to pay for sanitation in Kuala Lumpur, although research is needed into more cost-effective and community-based approaches to sewerage and sanitation. While the government has privatized the provision of those services, inadequate monitoring and regulation of privatized entities such as Indah Water and Alam Flora has raised much doubt and dissatisfaction among consumers regarding value-for-money derived from those entities. It is not sufficient, therefore, for the government to merely provide alternative options to service delivery. What is more critical will be the provision of sufficient regulatory mechanisms to ensure that public interest and welfare are safeguarded at all times. Some serious thought should also be given to the technical capacity of the private companies to deliver the services efficiently and effectively. Otherwise, confrontational situations will occur that are similar to the recent IWK controversy in which the public refused to pay the charges as a result of non/poor delivery of services. At the same time, decision-making on such services should be made more transparent so that the public, as an interested party, can present its views and assist in monitoring effective performance of service delivery. Privatization also means increases in tariff charges. To ensure that the poor do not suffer as a result of such increases, some form of cross-subsidy arrangements should be worked out to ensure that they are at least provided with the most basic of services.
Problems related to water quality and quantity will worsen with economic, urban and population growth. Competition between users will increase and availability will constrain growth. The combination of surface-water pollution and large withdrawals for agriculture is adversely affecting river fisheries and coastal ecology. Finally, water resource development projects (such as dams, transfer schemes, flood control and groundwater withdrawals), while having undisputed economic benefits, often have adverse environmental and social impacts. Those impacts are often preventable, or at least they can be mitigated or compensated for, although with greater effort than is commonly accorded such problems today. Improved water resource management and environmental protection of water resources are mutually reinforcing. Concern for both water quality and efficient use (i.e., reductions in quantity) is implicit in improved water resource management. Similarly, the necessity for preserving water quality and minimizing alterations to water-dependent ecosystems is imperative in environmental protection. On the basis of that emerging consensus, a five-element strategy is suggested below for better and more environmentally sound water resource management:
Although sewage and water treatment technologies are widely available, they remain capital intensive. In addition, pollution as well as the loss of oxygen associated with the decomposition of pollutants and algae blooms stimulated by nutrient run-off from areas of intensive fertilizer application, are threatening the capacity both of rivers to support aquatic life and coastal fisheries to maintain their productivity. With surface water sources becoming increasingly polluted, many people have turned to groundwater sources, which in some places are being drawn on through aquifers faster than they can be replenished. Although opportunities exist to use and reuse water more efficiently, there is no substitute for water; new sources of supply (such as desalinization) tend to be expensive and energy intensive. Despite stepped-up efforts to create wildlife and nature preserves, germ plasma banks and genetically managed zoo populations, pressure on habitats is a serious threat to the genetic heritage and ecosystems of the Earth.