Almost one million people prepare for dry days
in Malaysia's biggest drought
U.S. Water News Online
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Buckets are flying fast from
supermarket shelves across Malaysia's largest city as nearly 1
million people stock up on water just before taps in many
neighborhoods run dry.
Residents say their preparations for a recent weekend -- when
supplies were to be cut to carry out repairs at a major water
treatment plant -- stem from memories of a miserable six months of
severe water rationing in 1998.
Then, a drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon caught
authorities unprepared, swiftly depleted water reserves and left
nearly 2 million people in Kuala Lumpur and its suburbs without
running water for days at a stretch.
Despite assurances that the water cut starting last weekend should
last only two to six days and is necessary to ensure future supply,
nobody wants to be taken by surprise again.
``My family already has eight big buckets full of water,'' said
Leong Ching Ling, a resident of the high-lying Taman Desa suburb,
where water pressure might take a week to return to normal. ``We're
now washing all our dirty laundry and mopping all the floors, just in
The luxury hotel where Manchester United is staying ahead of a
friendly match against Malaysia promised that tanker trucks and other
backup supplies would assure that the soccer superstars are able to
take a shower.
``We have made all the necessary preparations,'' a manager at the
480-room Palace of the Golden Horses hotel said on condition of
anonymity. ``There will is no problem with water supply. The
Manchester team will have no worries.''
Since announcing the disruption last week, waterworks officials
have promised to dispatch tanker trucks to affected areas, where
residents can queue up -- like they did almost every morning three
years ago -- with jerricans and pails to collect clean water.
The trucks will also provide water to storage tanks in hospitals
and fire stations. Back-up supplies will be available from water
treatment plants on Kuala Lumpur's outskirts.
The cut will enable 130 engineers to replace corroded pipes,
install new pumps and clear sedimentary crust in the tanks of the
30-year-old Sungai Langat treatment plant, which supplies 477 million
liters (126 million gallons) of water daily to Kuala Lumpur and
Officials say this figure is 25 percent more than the plant's
designed capacity, but only 15 percent of Selangor's daily water
production. The plant will close throughout Saturday and the repairs
should cost about 3 million ringgit $789,000.
``We have been delaying it for the past two years,'' said Samy
Vellu, the federal works minister. ``If we delay any longer, the
plant may have a breakdown and we may face a more serious problem.''
Authorities have toiled to boost storage and distribution
facilities since the 1998 crisis, which showed water infrastructure
lagged behind other areas of Malaysia's breakneck development over
the past 20 years.
The crisis angered Malaysians who thought officials had learned
from an acute yearlong shortage in Malacca state, 93 miles south of
Kuala Lumpur, in 1991. The depletion of the state's reserves occurred
after authorities overestimated post-drought levels at a dam.
The government often warns that despite the high rainfall that
feeds Kuala Lumpur's four main reservoirs throughout the year,
massive demand and wasteful practices are a heavy burden on water
But rationing is rare in this Southeast Asian country, where
temperatures soar to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Many Malaysians bathe
twice a day and drink lots of water.
Opposition leaders protested earlier this year when the government
announced water price hikes of between 20 percent and 75 percent in
the Kuala Lumpur region.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the increase -- the first in
a decade -- was ``unavoidable'' because of rising water costs and new
projects. But the opposition accused authorities of inefficiency and
poor conservation campaigns.
Many people just want the government to guarantee they won't
suffer a repeat of the 1998 crisis, which forced many restaurants and
laundries to close.
``No water, no business,'' said Foong Fang Keong, an employee at
the Wash-In Dry Cleaning shop. He claimed the business would lose
$526 per day if its reserves run out.
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