Malaysia is expected to face severe water shortages in the coming years unless water conservation is taken more seriously by consumers and businesses, experts say.

Speakers at the UN Global Compact Network Malaysia & Brunei’s Future Leaders of Water Sustainability 2024 conference said that proactive measures from the government and the public were needed to avert a water crisis in the country of 34 million people.

Charles Santiago, chairman of the National Water Services Commission (SPAN), Malaysia’s water agency, said water management in Malaysia is primarily affected by two factors – non-revenue water (NRW) and overconsumption – both of which must be tackled urgently.

Speaking on a panel discussion on water security, Santiago said NRW had resulted in billions of ringgits in economic losses for the country in recent years.

NRW is the difference between the volume of water put into a water distribution system and the volume that is billed to customers.

“We lost something like eight billion ringgit (US$1.7 billion) as a result of leaking pipes between 2018 and 2022. If we don’t fix it, then in the next five years that 8 billion ringgit will balloon to 16 or even 17 billion ringgit,” he said, urging the authorities to ensure the water systems are better maintained to reduce losses.

“We are guzzlers. We consume something like 245 litres per day. And in Penang, people consume 300 litres per day. But the recommendation by the World Health Organisation is only 160 litres per day.”

“If we do not decrease our water consumption, we are going to face a crisis.”

Santiago said that the perception that “water is really affordable” is the main reason why businesses and consumers are “wasting it”.

Malaysia’s water tariff is the fourth lowest in Southeast Asia, at RM1.22 (US$0.25) per cubic metre. This compares to RM1.37 (US0.29) per cubic metre in Vietnam, RM1.68 (US$0.35) in Thailand, RM2.92 (US$0.62) in the Philippines and RM5.88 (US$1.27) in Singapore.

Read the full article about water crisis by Siva Selan at Eco-Business.