Residents get creative to deal with Selangor water shortage

SELANGOR, Malaysia - Rich or poor, the prolonged water shortage in Selangor and Greater Kuala Lumpur has forced everyone to devise imaginative ways to make it through the drought.

Fed up with having to haul pails of water up five flights of stairs, contractor Rezuan Hussain became an instant hero two weeks ago after he installed a pulley system in the stairwell of his apartment block in Balakong.

Now, all his neighbours use it.

"Without this pulley, you would be exhausted carrying up just two pails of water once," he told The Straits Times last Thursday.

With a single pulley and nylon rope, Mr Rezuan's G block of Taman Setia Balakong is the only one out of seven blocks in the low-income area with a system that can move vast amounts of water easily. The 700 or so residents in the apartment block can easily empty an entire 1,000 litre tank in under 40 minutes.

The pulley is also handy for moving bags and furniture.

Since Jan 28, the drought has forced thousands of households in Greater Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan and Johor to go without water. Rain is expected only in the middle of next month, and Selangor water distributor Syabas started scheduled water rationing for 750,000 households last Thursday.

The dry weather has also sparked fires in Penang's hills, with waterbombing runs being carried out by the state's Fire and Rescue Services Department to douse the flames.

Pulley or not, jostling for water is still a daily struggle for the folk in Mr Rezuan's area when Syabas' water trucks roll by to fill up the four tanks placed intermittently between the apartment blocks twice a day.

"You have to rush for your turn or the water will be gone fast," said homemaker Siti Balkis Omar, who says she needs at least 25 litres of water per day for herself, her technician husband and their six children.

Since her taps ran dry on Feb 9, she has spent about RM50 (S$19) a week sending clothes to the laundry shop. Regular meal take-outs are also eating into the family's budget. These days, they eat all their meals on disposable polystyrene plates and cups.

Some have switched from eating rice to bread, which does not require plates to eat with. "We can eat 30 loaves of bread a week," said Mr Rezuan, who is married with four children.

Everyone needs water, but the rich have more resources to deal with the shortage. The difference is stark.

Living just a few minutes' walk away from the Taman Setia Balakong flats, computer shop owner Wan Azlan Wan Ismail has invested in three 600 litre water tanks, for RM300 each, so his family will not have to go without water.

"Selangor has a lot of shortages, so we have to be prepared," he said. He even bought a RM160 electric pump that allows a 600 litre tank to be filled in 15 minutes. When the situation is dire, he rents lorries for RM250 per day to pick up water from nearby neighbourhoods that have it.

His arrangement means his family's meals are hardly affected. They typically have full meals of home-cooked chicken, vegetable and soup, and their maid washes the dishes with stored water from one of the large plastic tanks that he has bought.

The only hassle? "We have to spend RM50 a week on the dhobi (laundry shop)."

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