The Malaysian Water Scenario

Fragmented management of the water sector both at the Federal and State levels, continues to remain as the institutional norm since 1957. Investments in water infrastructure that focused on “water for livelihoods” was largely for potable water supply and wastewater management services to the fast growing rural and urban population nationwide; water supply for industrial use; agricultural water supply and water management services for both food and plantation crops; flood mitigation and urban drainage works; hydro-power generation to meet energy needs; and for the maintenance of waterways and water bodies for navigational and recreational purposes. Understandably, the fast pace of economic progress and especially extensive land development (both controlled and uncontrolled) has had its negative impacts on “water as a resource” much to the detriment of the environment and ecosystem function services. This has manifested over time in the increased incidence of water-related hazards (floods, droughts, landslides, and mudslides) and increase in pollution of the natural waterways and water bodies limiting the use of its waters and consequential threats to aquatic life.

River basins located in the main growth regions especially in Kedah, Perlis, Penang, Selangor, and Malacca have had water demands exceeding their respective carrying capacities requiring inter-basin water transfers. There are also growing conflicts of use and abuse of waters in many river basins including trans-boundary issues, thereby rendering “business as usual” based on past fragmented or sectoral approaches to water resources management ineffective and the need for more holistic management models to ensure greater water security and sustainability.

Water-related issues and challenges

  • Regional Water Stress
  • Flooding
  • Pollution of Water Sources
  • Environmental Degradation
  • Fragmented Management and Conflicts among Sectors
  • Climate Change Impacts

Since the turn of the 21st century and in keeping with commitment to global trends and conventions, Malaysia has formally adopted Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) as the way forward to sustainably manage its water resources. Despite the formal declaration and adoption of the IWRM policy, its implementation to date has yet to gain adequate traction on a national scale. This is largely related to governance issues due to the lack of concerted efforts at the national level and the absence of effective mechanisms for inter-ministry dialogue and for greater Federal-State cooperation, considering that relevant provisions under the Federal Constitution vests ‘ownership’ of water as a resource with the respective states.


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Kuala Lumpur, 1-3 October, 2019

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