One of the tacit assurances of living in a developed country is that you will always have access to clean drinking water. You should never have to worry that your family will fall ill while fulfilling one of life’s basic necessities.
In a rapidly developing country like Malaysia, that confidence should be increasing.
A hot, wet and humid equatorial nation, in parts of the eastern coast of the Peninsular seeing 5,000mm of rainfall is not uncommon to quench our 150 river systems.
So why then are people in states such as Kedah and Kelantan going thirsty due to the poor quality of the water that is being delivered to their homes – if it is even being delivered at all?
Something is clearly amiss – and the blame seems to be falling on the Opposition-controlled state governments that are at the helm there.
The Opposition failings have not been for want of attempts by the Federal Government to rectify the situation.
The Rural and Regional Development Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said recently that the implementation of Rural Basic Infrastructure (RBI) was moving ahead under the GTP.
Under the NKRA, his ministry has managed to connect 112,425 more houses with clean and treated water.
The poster-child for unacceptable water quality is Kelantan. And frankly, Nik Aziz has no excuses for its poor performance. For 22 years he has been in power there – yet nothing has been achieved to resolve the situation. Instead, it has simply been allowed to fester.
Indeed there have been calls for the state’s Menteri Besar to quit over his apparently lackadaisical approach.
Azmi Ali, the head of the People of Kelantan Action Council, says that after over two decades in power, there is no longer a place in the state for the PAS spiritual leader.
“The people of Kelantan are not asking for a revolving tower or tiered flyover. We only want clean water. PAS carries the slogan, Welfare State, but it can’t even solve the water problem. The people of Kelantan are very stressed out with this problem,” he said.
Currently more than one million people in the state are affected, many severely, through a combination of faulty and ageing treatment plants, rusty pipes and worse.
In fact, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) recently began an investigation into allegations that some of the funds allocated by the Federal Government were misappropriated by the local water supply agency, Air Kelantan Sdn Bhd.
The investigations began in the same week that Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was forced to step in and overrule the PAS state Government on the issue. In total, RM100,000 was used from the Education Ministry’s Emergency Budget, which is set aside to deal with circumstances such as these. However, the DPM said that this could have been avoided if the state Government in Kelantan had simply done their job.
“The state government is incapable of solving the problem, although the federal government has stepped in to assist by approving an interest-free loan of about RM618mil,” he said this week.
For the people there still getting dirty piped water, contaminated with bacteria and dangerous traces of metals, that is simply not good enough.
Kedah has also faced serious problems, with disruptions to its supply becoming increasingly regular over recent years.
And this week we have seen reports that the crisis threatens to bubble over into Selangor – anotherOpposition held state.
The executive chairman of Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas), Tan Sri Rozali Ismail, said that his organisation had submitted details about areas that were hit by critical levels of shortages.
“These facts cannot be denied. If the situation is getting worse, then, anything else to say is pointless,” he said.
“If the state government does not believe, they can challenge these data. Please send any external consultants to check on the water data that we have processed.”
He also urged the Selangor Government to resolve the issues, including the Langat 2 Water Treatment Plant project immediately, to avert a possible water crisis in the Klang Valley by 2014.
Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah recently implored Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim and his colleagues not to politicise the water issue.
“Some people think that the water problem is trivial but I view it seriously because it will affect our life and national development.
“I don’t want the water issue to be politicised as the people need it and there are no other alternatives,” he said, concerned that a crisis could endanger the states reputation with investors – something that could slow down growth at a crucial time for Malaysia.
For the Opposition politicians who have shown such deplorable apathy, the issue will soon be what to do after they are ousted out of office by voters thirsty for change.
If they can’t manage to get the basics right in a handful of states, (in some cases after 22 years!) how can they possibly be trusted with managing the entire country?