Drought forces water rationing on millions of Malaysians

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia said Friday it will expand water rationing in and around its capital, in a move affecting millions as drought continues to scorch a tropical country usually synonymous with torrential rain.

The national water commission said in a statement over 300,000 households in Kuala Lumpur and nearby Selangor, Malaysia's most populous state, will experience cuts for the whole of March, after a two-month dry spell depleted reservoirs.

Some 60,000 households in Selangor - a central state which is the nation's economic hub - have already been hit by rationing since Tuesday.

According to the commission, another 50,000 premises in the southern state of Johor have also undergone rationing last week as much of Malaysia suffers under bone-dry conditions and high temperatures.

"The hot weather and lack of rain in catchment areas have caused all reservoirs in Selangor to recede," said the commission's chairman Ismail Kasim.

Kuala Lumpur shares its water supply with Selangor, where the reserve level of dams have dipped below 50 per cent.

A spokeswoman from the state's private water company also told AFP about 2.2 million people would be affected.

Malaysia tends to experience dry weather early in the year, but the current spell has been unusually long, sparking bushfires and protests from communities whose taps have run dry.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department said in a statement to AFP Wednesday that 11 out of 40 weather stations have in the past two months experienced their longest-ever recorded dry spells and warned that the dry patch could last another month.

The state of Negeri Sembilan, adjacent to Selangor, last week declared a water crisis, mobilising to supply treated water to thousands of households.

The Malaysian economy remains reliant on agriculture - it is the world's second-largest producer of palm oil and a major exporter of rubber - although no alarm has been raised yet on the potential impact of the drought on upcoming harvests.

The hot spell has also contributed to more cases of dengue fever, as it speeds up the life cycle of the aedes mosquito that carries the virus and enhances replication of the pathogen, experts say.

Deaths from the flu-like illness have risen to 29 this year, nearly triple the same period in the last year, according to reports citing the Health Ministry.