Hot, dry, parched Selangor

A factory worker collecting treated water from a public pipe during the Selangor water crisis in the dry season.

KUALA LUMPUR - A water shortage caused by dry weather that could last until April has Malaysians in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur in such dire straits that the government will try cloud seeding this week to bring rain.

"The exercise will be carried out within this week as the water reserve levels in several dams are already at critical levels," said Deputy Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Mahdzir Khalid in a The Star Online report on Tuesday.

More than 80,000 households in Greater Klang Valley - comprising southern Selangor and Kuala Lumpur - have had little to no water since the end of last month.

Water levels in two major dams - Sungai Selangor and Klang Gates dams - are already critically low, Mr Mahdzir warned, at just 58 per cent and 57 per cent.

Two water treatment plants have also been closed temporarily because their filters have been contaminated by the build-up of ammonia, which can occur naturally when animal or vegetable matter decays.

"We are losing 56 million litres per day due to the shortage from the water treatment plants," Mr Abdul Halem Mat Som, executive director of Selangor water distribution company Syabas, told The Straits Times on Tuesday by phone.

Emotions have been running high in the Selangor district of Balakong, at the edge of Kuala Lumpur, where at least 15,000 homes have not had water for a week. Syabas has deployed some 70 water trucks round the clock to send water to affected homes in Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Langat and Hulu Langat districts for two weeks, but residents say they need more.

On Friday last week, angry residents at an apartment complex in Balakong, who said water had not been sent to their area, hijacked a water truck. "Yes, this water shortage does bring a lot of tension because we don't know when it will be solved," said Mr Amarudin Sarkan, a safety officer who lives in the area.

"Many people were using anything, even empty cooking oil bottles to collect water," said Balakong resident Ravi Karuppayah. Plastic containers of about 9 litres to 45 litres, costing RM15 to RM50 (S$5.70 to S$19) each, were being snapped up everywhere, he said.

Scenes like these are reminiscent of the severe drought of 1998 which affected 1.8 million residents in the Klang Valley for six months.

"Water from Syabas' trucks are not enough," said assemblyman Eddie Ng for Balakong, who is from the opposition Democratic Action Party.

"We also need to rent water trucks from outside Balakong (to) help the residents."

Like most things in Malaysia, politics have intruded into the dry weather. The opposition has claimed that the federal government run by the Barisan Nasional is purposely making the shortage worse to create alarm among residents, who might then blame the Selangor state government, which is controlled by the Pakatan Rakyat alliance of federal opposition parties.

"Instead of taking proactive steps to find a solution, Syabas blames it on nature," Parti Keadilan Rakyat's strategic director Rafizi Ramli said at a press conference on Monday.

Whatever the truth, the prospect of the water crisis affecting Malaysia's most industrialised state is a major problem.

But to Mr Amarudin, who was collecting water in bottles at the roadside from a public water pipe, none of that matters.

"It's frustrating when you don't know what is to be blamed for this shortage," he said.

lestkong@sph.com.sg


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