PETALING JAYA - It might take Malaysia 20 years to replace all of its ageing pipes with better ones.
According to Malaysian Water Association president Syed Mohamed Adnan Alhabshi, billions of ringgit needed to be spent to fix over 40,000km of pipes.
"First you have to identify the pipes, then you have to award the contracts and then construct the specific pipes. All of these takes years," he said.
He said that the standard was to replace asbestos-cement (AC) pipes with steel ones.
However, he added that developed countries were moving from this to the better ductile-iron pipes.
Marzuki Mohammad, the executive director (Water Regulatory Department) of the National Water Services Commission's (SPAN) said changing pipes required a lot of money, adding that it was easier said than done.
He said state governments were hindered by low water tariffs and were already losing money.
"The current low rates do not encourage investments in upgrading of the water supply system," he said.
Last year, operators nationwide had a total deficit of RM380.5 million (S$148 million) .
Marzuki said to plug this, the Federal Government formed the Water Asset Management Company (PAAB) to take over state water assets. In return, PAAB provide capital for replacement works and charge lease from water operators.
So far, six states have agreed to PAAB taking over their assets - Johor, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Perlis, Perak and Penang.
In the first three years of handing their assets over, PAAB assigned Johor, Malacca and Negri Sembilan RM162 million , RM148.15 million and RM90 million, respectively, which resulted in pipes being replaced and water saved.
"PAAB funding is the only way to address the financial issues faced by the operators in investing in upgrading the systems," Marzuki said.
He said SPAN targeted a national NRW of 25 per cent by 2020.
It is estimated that water operators nationwide lost at least RM618 million in revenue last year alone due to NRW.