OUR tap water has a bad taste and odour, according to a study by Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. It’s no wonder then that we are not keen to drink it!
Water from the treatment plant is undoubtedly clean but the condition of the pipes that channel it to our homes can affect its purity, taste and odour. These pipes originate from multiple sources and can be many kilometres in length. Along the way, there may be some spots where the water is trapped, resulting in the accumulation of sand or moss, which affects the odour and taste of the water.
Some pipes can even be old and rusty. This is why you see brown water coming from your faucets. Brown water is also due to burst water mains in the municipal system, repairs on water mains, extensive use of water by the Fire Department or high content of iron and/or manganese in the water.
Besides the pipes, water tanks on landed property and business premises can also be blamed for contaminated water especially if these are not cleaned regularly. Microorganisms such as E. coli and coliform may breed in the water if it is stored for a long period in the tank.
Rust is one of the primary sources of sediments in plumbing. If sediment in plumbing is a persistent problem, the best course of action is to ask a plumber to flush out the entire system.
Flushing will not only dislodge and remove the sediments from the pipes, it will also prevent water stagnation, a risk factor for growth of bacteria.
The Malaysian Water Forum (FAM) supports Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye’s recommendation that tap water should be boiled before consuming it.
Studies have shown that the level of certain minerals in Malaysian tap water is generally below permitted levels. This basically means that the water running through our pipes is actually safe to consume. In fact, the treatment process is monitored regularly according to international water quality standards.
Malaysians can consider themselves lucky as we are not as badly affected by water scarcity and water safety problems as people in some countries. According to the United Nations, 884 million people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water.
Moreover, our water tariffs are among the cheapest in the world. Selangor and Johor, for example, charge only RM0.57 and RM0.80 per cubic metre of water respectively. Compared to Thailand and Singapore, which charge about RM1.09 and RM6.50 per cubic metre of water respectively for domestic use, our water prices are cheaper by at least 36%.
FAM, in collaboration with Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), has conducted a study on behaviour and water use practice among Malaysians. The study involved 3,050 respondents from 13 states (Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah, Sarawak) and Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.
Most respondents (78%) agreed that rivers are the most important water sources; 95% agreed that sources of clean water are decreasing; 76% said that the water supplied to their home is not safe for drinking; and 59% believe that their tap water contains chemicals that are dangerous to their health.
Almost all respondents (99.4%) said that education on smart water usage is important to ensure sustainable supply of clean water for the current population and future generations. Reduction of water usage is one of the ways to do this.
FAM is taking proactive steps by undertaking outreach programmes to promote behavioural change in order to achieve the target of reducing water consumption from 226 litres to 180 litres per day by year 2020. Compared to our neighbouring countries Singapore and Thailand, where the daily water consumption is 154 litres and 90 litres respectively, Malaysian water consumption is still far beyond the amount recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) which is 165 litres per day.
SARAL JAMES MANIAM
Malaysian Water Forum