Do you know where the water goes when you flush it down the toilet or kitchen sink?
Despite more frequent and longer water disruptions in recent years, especially in urban areas, most of us continue to take our water supply and its disposal for granted. This interactive webpage will help you understand the issues and reveal some surprises.
Make sure to complete the quiz at the end for your chance to win a one month free Indah Water bill!
How much water do you think each Malaysian uses daily for household purposes compared to other countries?
Penangites tops the chart with 277 litres per day, almost 3 times the amount used by Sabahans which is 108 litres per day. The data also shows that domestic water consumption has little to do with people's income or urbanisation level as the top five states consists of both wealthier, more developed states (Pulau Pinang and Melaka) and those with lower income and less urbanised states (Perlis and Perak).
Only three states - Sarawak, Kelantan and Sabah - met the water use amount recommended by the United Nations. However this doesn't mean that people in those states are better water savers. Compared to other states, fewer people (lower than 90%) in the three states have access to public water supply. Their water use from other alternative sources such as wells and rivers are not recorded in the data above.
However, the average number doesn’t paint the real picture because the amount of water used varies largely in different areas. Let's take a look at water consumption for household purposes in different states.
Most of the water we use is flushed down the toilet or kitchen sink as wastewater but the story doesn’t end there.
Wastewater has to be treated and disposed through an efficient sewerage system so that harmful substances doesn’t enter our rivers and sea causing pollution or spreading diseases.
Hence the more water we use (or waste), the more wastewater we need to treat, and the more money it will cost since the treatment process costs a lot of money.
With the exception of Sabah, Sarawak, Kelantan and several local authorities in Johor, the sewerage system in Malaysia is developed and maintained by Indah Water Konsortium (IWK), a company owned by the federal government.
Its sewerage service covers 26 million people, which is slightly over 80% of Malaysia’s total population.
“Dirty, difficult and dangerous” might be the best way to describe the works done by IWK employees as they have to deal with the sludge from our toilets on a daily basis.
One of the services provided by IWK, as shown in this video, is the desludging of an individual septic tank in residential houses.
It is the process of emptying a septic tank that is not connected to the sewerage network which should be done once every two years. Without scheduled desludging, the septic tank cannot function efficiently and untreated sewage will be released into rivers, killing aquatic life and threatening public health.
Individual septic tank is the most common form of sewerage system in Malaysia. There are over 1.2 million premises with such tanks in the country.
Every house that is served by IWK sewerage system has to pay a monthly sewerage fee to IWK. Without checking your IWK bill, do you know how much we are paying in comparison to other foreign cities?
The amazingly low sewerage charge that we are paying now is far from sufficient to meet IWK’s operating cost, hence IWK has to rely on government financial assistance to survive.
The government has been subsidying IWK since 2001. Annual assistance was less than RM100 million in the early 2000s.
Population growth and ever-increasing water use over the years means higher operating costs for IWK. To maintain the cheap sewerage charge, the government has to pump in more money. The subsidy more than doubled in 2005 and reached a historical height of RM250 million in 2009.
At the same time, IWK took over more and more sewage treatment plants, serving many more Malaysians. The number of plants maintained by IWK has doubled from 3,253 in 2001 to 6,823 in May 2019. Amongst those sewage treatment plants, 97% of them met the requirements set by the Department of Environment, meaning the wastewater treated by those plants is clean enough to be discharged into our rivers.
The additional burden did not come with a higher price. IWK was able to deliver outstanding performance without asking for more financial assistance. The annual subsidy was kept at RM200 million from 2013 to 2016.
With more cost optimisation exercises and increasing collection rate, IWK was able to reduce government assistance in the past 3 years to RM140 million in 2018. This amount will drop to RM110 million in 2020, according to the government budget.
The government subsidy from 2001 to June 2019 totals up to a whopping RM2.68 billion. If the money were to be used to build schools, we could have 357 new schools or 19 schools each year.