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MALAYSIA’S WATER VISION: THE WAY FORWARD - The Malaysian Water Partnership


In support of Vision 2020 (towards achieving developed nation status), Malaysia will conserve and manage its water resources to ensure adequate and safe water for all (including the environment). Such is the Malaysian vision for water in the 21st century.

The key objectives of the vision are as follows:

  • Water for people: all have access to safe, adequate and affordable water supply, hygiene and sanitation.
  • Water for food and rural development: provision of sufficient water that will ensure national food security and promote rural development.
  • Water for economic development: provision of sufficient water to spur and sustain economic growth within the context of a knowledge-based economy and e-commerce.
  • Water for the environment: protection of the water environment to preserve water resources (both surface water and groundwater) and natural flow regimes, bio-diversity and the cultural heritage, along with mitigation of water-related hazards.

The set of initiatives that need to take place in order to achieve the key objectives of the vision is evaluated based on the four challenges towards a better water future, which are (a) managing our water resources efficiently and effectively (addressing both quantity and quality aspects), (b) moving towards integrated river basin management, (c) translating awareness into political will and capacity and (d) moving towards adequate, safe and affordable water services, as will befit developed-nation status by 2020.

The actions for a better water future are also determined based on milestones and targets and they have to do with (a) institutional and legal aspects, (b) participatory approach in the decision-making process, (c) development of innovative technologies, (d) efficient use of water resources, (e) extensive research and development, (f) shift from water-supply to water-demand management, (g) establishment of river basin organizations, (h) integrated water resources management, (i) promotion of water awareness and water education, (j) promotion of networking in the water sector, (k) good databases and dissemination, (l) resource assessment, monitoring and protection, (m) water ecosystems protection, (n) flood and drought contingency plans, (o) water-quality management, (p) frequent dialogues with the stakeholders, (q) a Water Sector Master Plan and (r) formation of a National Water Institute.

The way forward to realize the national water vision is to establish associated programmes in the Eighth Malaysian Plan (2001-2005) and the Third Outline Perspective Plan (2001-2010)


Malaysia is rich in water resources, whose development has been the basis for the socio-economic development of the country over the past decades. Lately, the water supply situation for the country has changed from one of relative abundance to one of scarcity. Population growth and urbanization, industrialization and the expansion of irrigated agriculture are imposing rapidly increasing demands and pressure on water resources, besides contributing to the rising water pollution. The way forward to a prosperous and sustainable future is to keep development to a level that is within the carrying capacity of the river basins while protecting and restoring the environment.

The objective of the water vision is to move from where we are today to where we need to be to meet future water needs and ensure sustainable use of water. This exercise involves a process of study, consultation and promotion which will develop knowledge at the national level, produce a consensus on a vision for water for the year 2025, raise awareness on water issues among the population and decision-makers and generate a framework for action. This framework will set the basis for the development of a detailed action plan to help move from the concept outlined in the vision to tangible results - making every drop count - which will make a real difference in people’s lives. It is a route map to take us from our present situation to the vision for 2025.

The Malaysian water visioning process is undertaken by both the Malaysian Water Partnership (MWP) and the Malaysian National Committee for Irrigation and Drainage (MANCID). MANCID has conducted sectoral consultations with respect to water for food and rural development at both national and regional levels. MWP is the national consultative body on the water sector and has conducted a series of five national consultations on the water sector with respect to the mapping of needs and the national water vision, global sectoral visions, the framework for action, gender and water, and the realization of the national water vision.

This paper was prepared as part of the latest consultations organized in the context of the regional FAO-ESCAP cooperation initiative to build on previous achievements of the national water visioning processes to identify priority activities for national action and further regional cooperation in the water resources sector. As a result, efforts are being made to incorporate the framework of action for the realization of the national water vision into the future national development plan and other related plans.


Malaysia receives an average annual rainfall of 3 000 mm. Water resources development has been a catalyst for the socio-economic development of the country during the past decades. Dams and kilometres of pipelines and canals divert water from rivers to sustain domestic, industrial and agricultural needs. Lately, the water situation for the country has changed from one of relative abundance to one of scarcity. Population growth, urbanization, industrialization and the expansion of irrigated agriculture are imposing rapidly growing demands and pressures on the water resources, besides contributing to the rising water pollution. Water management is becoming increasingly comprehensive and complicated due to large concentrations of population, commercial activities and industries around the cities and towns, increasing water consumption, increasing water pollution, increasing land use conflicts and climate changes. At the same time, any new development of water resources to meet the ever-increasing demand faces rigorous scrutiny from environmentalists and conservationists.

The way forward to a prosperous and sustainable future is by keeping development to a level that is within the carrying capacity of the river basins while protecting and restoring the environment. Integrated water resources management (IWRM) should be adopted in managing the water sector and the catchment. IWRM is an approach towards integrating and effectively coordinating policies, programmes and practices addressing water-related issues, which takes into consideration the various aspects of socio-economic development and the conservation of the environment.

This paper attempts to outline a desirable water scenario in the country for the year 2025 and provides a description of the national water sector which the Malaysians would like to have in 2025, including a strategy to achieve the vision. The introduction is followed by a description of the World Water Vision and national water vision processes and of the objectives of the vision and framework for action. Section II describes the management of water resources, with an overview of the water sector, a presentation of the main issues and challenges facing the Malaysian water sector, and a possible scenario for the future. Sections III and IV describe the national water vision and the national framework for action. The conclusion is given in Section V.

1. The world water vision process

The World Water Vision project was initiated by the World Water Council. WWC, which was established in 1996, is an international water policy think-tank co-sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Bank. WWC has undertaken to develop a long-term vision on water, life and the environment, known as World Water Vision, through the establishment of a World Commission on Water for the 21st Century on 11 August 1998. The commission is expected to prepare a long-term vision for addressing the issues of water in the next century, that is to say, to develop a widely shared vision on the actions required for tackling water issues globally, regionally and nationally.

The establishment of the commission was decided by WWC in response to the unanimous recommendations of the international community at the first World Water Forum held on 21-22 March 1997 in Marrakech, Morocco, and at the Water and Sustainable Development Conference, held in Paris on 19-21 March 1998.

The project to develop a world water vision is characterized by a participatory approach with extensive consultation and innovative futuristic thinking emphasizing communication with groups beyond the water sector. The vision is expected to be global, including both developed and developing regions, but with special attention given to the needs of developing countries and of the poor. The visioning process uses two types of consultation, i.e. sectoral and regional.

The sectoral consultations illustrate the notion that all water subsectors are necessary parts of an integrated water management approach. The sectoral vision demonstrates the perceived critical issues, strategic directions and trends or discontinuities likely to affect a particular subsector over the next 25 years. Twelve subsectors are considered and the four main ones are water for people, water for food and rural development, water and nature, and water in rivers. The sectoral visions are arrived at through network consultations.

The appropriate scale for resolving water resource issues, though, is not necessarily global but regional or local. The central idea behind regional visions is that they encapsulate widely shared views on how water resources should be used, allocated or shared and managed in the region over the long term to meet the needs of the people while maintaining a sustainable balance between demand and supply. The regional consultations are conducted in close collaboration with the regional technical advisory committees of the Global Water Partnership and the International Hydrological Programme of UNESCO. There are 22 regional consultations and one of the regions is Southeast Asia.

Both the sectoral and regional visions will contribute to the overall World Water Vision. The World Water Vision prescribes the desired future and the actions needed for the sustainable use of water resources to become a reality. The results of the world water visioning process were presented and debated at the Second World Water Forum and Ministerial Conference that took place on 17-22 March 2000 in The Hague.

2. The national water vision process

The Malaysian water visioning process is undertaken by both the Malaysian Water Partnership (MWP) and the Malaysian National Committee for Irrigation and Drainage (MANCID). MANCID has conducted sectoral consultations with respect to water for food and rural development at both national (9 January 1999) and regional levels (17-19 May 1999). The latter was conducted in collaboration with the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage for the East Asia region.

MWP is the national consultative body on the water sector. It was formed out of a recommendation made at the National Consultation on Integrated Water Resources Management, which was held in Kuala Lumpur on 29 November 1997; this meeting was assisted by GWP SEATAC. Five top issues in integrated water resources management were identified: (a) lack of a coherent national water policy; (b) need for concerted efforts in capacity building; (c) lack of a comprehensive database; (d) lack of coordination, and (e) lack of integrated planning and management. MWP is made up of nine core national agencies which are its executive members. The total institutional membership of MWP is 77, comprising government agencies, private-sector companies, water user groups, non-governmental organizations and research institutions. MWP has conducted a series of five national consultations on the water sector as follows:

3. Objectives of the vision and of the framework for action

The objective of the water vision is to move from where we are today to where we need to be to meet future water needs and ensure the sustainable use of water. This exercise involves a process of study, consultation and promotion, which will:

The framework for action is designed to lay the basis for the development of detailed action plans to help move from the concepts outlined in the vision to tangible results - making every drop count - that will make a real difference in people’s lives. It is a route map to take us from our present situation to the vision for 2025. The framework will provide an analysis of the practical consequences of the strategic choices emerging from the vision and develop a clear picture of the range of actions and policies to use in the various water domains - water for the people, for food, for nature and so on. Second, it will translate these analyses into proposals for innovative policy measures, institutions, management instruments, investment priorities and implementation guidelines for integrated water resources at the various levels. These potential actions will be challenge-oriented, in that they will aim to overcome specific threats as well as foster positive developments and process-oriented mechanisms aimed at securing or facilitating the implementation of the strategy.


1. Water sector overview

Malaysia lies entirely in the equatorial zone. The climate is governed by the yearly alternation of the northeast and southwest monsoons. The northeast monsoon occurs from November till March, and the southwest monsoon between May and September. The northeast monsoon brings heavy rains and extensive flooding to the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, while the west coast receives relatively little rain during the southwest monsoon owing to the sheltering effect of the mountains in Sumatra.

The maximum and minimum mean air temperatures are 33.4°C and 22.8°C respectively. The highest and lowest recorded annual rainfall are 5 130 mm (Sarawak, 1994) and 1 350 mm (Perlis, 1992) respectively. As for the number of rainfall days, the maximum recorded is 260 (Sarawak, 1995). The mean annual relative air humidity varies between 78 and 87 percent; this high humidity is due to the high temperature and high rate of evaporation. All parts of the country receive an average of 1 764 to 2 664 bright sunshine hours a year. These data are based on the last ten-year records (1989-1999).

The water resources in Malaysia are summarized in Table 1. Groundwater accounts for 90 percent of the freshwater resources. The renewable water resources are 630 billion m3 - the summation of surface runoff and groundwater recharge. This translates into an annual average water availability of about 28 400 m3 per capita. Based on this fact, Malaysia is a country with abundant water resources.

Table 1. Water resources in Malaysia

Annual rainfall

990 billion m3 (Ref 1)

Surface runoff

566 billion m3


360 billion m3

Groundwater recharge

64 billion m3

Surface artificial storage (dams)

25 billion m3 (Ref 2)

Groundwater storage (aquifers)

5 000 billion m3 (Ref 3)

Streams and rivers with and without impounding reservoirs contribute 98 percent of total water used in Malaysia; the remainder is contributed by groundwater. River flow regimes are irregular and to secure safe yield from surface water sources, storage facilities were constructed. Currently, there are 47 single-purpose and 16 multipurpose dams (Table 2) with a total storage capacity of 25 billion m3. The main reason for the lack of groundwater use in the country is the easy availability of surface water resources; there are over 150 river systems in Malaysia (Ref 3).

Table 2. Dams in Malaysia

Single-purpose dams

Water supply






Silt retention




Multipurpose dams

Water supply + Irrigation


Water supply + Flood mitigation


Water supply + Irrigation + Flood mitigation


Hydropower + Flood mitigation


Hydropower + Water supply




Source: (Ref 2)
The water demand for 1980 and 1990 and the projected demand for 2000 are given in Table 3; the values within the brackets refer to the proportions of the total water use. Table 4 shows the national water supply production capacity and coverage and non-revenue water (NRW) for 1990 and the projected figures for 2000. Due to the rapid population increase and the rapid growth of industries, the annual water demand for the domestic and industrial sector has been expanding at the rate of about 12 percent. By 2020, the domestic and industrial sector is projected to be the main water user in the country.

Table 3. Water demand for 1980 and 1990 and projected demand in 2000

Water user




Domestic and industry

1.3 billion m3 (18 %)

2.6 billion m3 (20 %)

4.8 billion m3 (23 %)


7.4 billion m3 (80 %)

9.0 billion m3 (78 %)

10.4 billion m3 (75 %)


0.2 billion m3 (2 %)

0.2 billion m3 (2 %)

0.3 billion m3 (2 %)

Source: (Ref 4)

Table 4. Water supply production capacity and coverage and non-revenue water for 1990, and projected figures for 2000




Production capacity

6,103 mld (2.2 billion m3)

11,800 mld (4.3 billion m3)

National coverage (%)



Urban coverage (%)



Rural coverage (%)



Non-revenue water (%)



Source: (Ref 4)
Irrigation development primarily caters for the double cropping of paddy to meet the dual objective of increasing food production and raising farmers’ income. There are 564 000 hectares of wet paddy land in Malaysia, 322 000 hectares of which are capable of double cropping through the provision of irrigation facilities. Irrigation efficiency is about 50 percent for the larger schemes, though some of the smaller schemes operate at an efficiency of perhaps less than 40 percent.

With respect to sanitation, in 1980 the government adopted the policy that all new housing developments of more than 30 units must have a complete sewerage infrastructure, including their own local sewage treatment plants. In 1994, the public sewerage services were privatized. Almost all of the urban population have access to sanitation facilities. About 79 percent of the urban population has access to the central sewerage system and 98 percent of the rural population is provided with pour-flush latrines (Ref 5).

Hydropower development was given emphasis through the four-fuel (oil, gas, coal, hydropower) energy strategy of the 1980s as it is a clean and renewable resource. Energy self-sufficiency is achieved by maximizing the development and use of indigenous energy resources. In 1998, the share of hydropower to total power generation was less than ten percent. The aggregate energy production of hydropower plants in operation and of prospective projects that have been identified or investigated is less than 30 percent of the technical potential. The gross hydropower potential of the country has been estimated at 29 000 MW, about 85 percent of which is in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Water quality has become an important concern as a direct consequence of accelerated economic development in the past two decades. Table 5 shows the water quality of the selected rivers for the period 1992-1998. In the case of groundwater quality, the preliminary findings of the monitoring programme, which began in 1996 in Peninsular Malaysia, did not show the presence of any significant contaminant in the groundwater, except around solid waste dumping sites. A similar groundwater-monitoring programme is being implemented in Sabah and Sarawak.

Table 5. Quality of river water, 1992-1998























Very polluted















Slightly polluted













































Source: (Ref 6)
2. Main issues and challenges facing the Malaysian water sector

The main issues and challenges facing the Malaysian water sector which affect the sustainability of development, allocation of water among users and the efforts of the people to achieve a better living are briefly discussed below.

a) Institutional and legal issues

There is no single agency in the country entrusted with the overall responsibility of holistic planning and management of water. Conflicts in water resources management such as allocation of water rights, flood management, pollution control, environmental protection, etc, are resolved through inter-agency coordination and consultation. However, at the federal level, a National Water Resources Council (NWRC) has been set up to pursue a more effective water management, including the implementation of interstate water transfers.

Malaysia suffers from a plethora of sector-based water laws, both at federal and state levels, and from the lack of a comprehensive water law. At present, water legislation is contained within the laws that are enforced by the various water-related government agencies, and many of these laws are outdated, redundant or ambiguous. This diversified water legislation focuses on limited aspects of water resources and water supply directly related to the responsibilities of the respective government agencies and thus difficult to enforce effectively.

b) Increased competition for water

The growth in population and GDP over the last three decades has resulted in heavy demand for water. The problem of population growth is particularly felt in the urban areas, due to rural-urban migration and growing urbanization. The exponential growth in urban population has stretched the government’s ability to answer infrastructure and service needs and provide the environmental conditions required for better living. Often the supporting infrastructure for the collection, treatment and disposal of sewage and solid wastes is inadequate to cope with the amounts generated. This state of affairs raises problems of water and air pollution, public health and urban environmental degradation.

The increased demand for the limited and diminishing supply of clean water available has led to competition among the various water users, a competition the continued economic growth exacerbates increasingly. In addition, as the readily available portion of water resources has already been developed for use in practically all regions of major water demand, future water resources development will require the construction of more storage dams. These are not only costly to build: there’s a high price to pay in environmental terms as well. Furthermore, the practicable limit of surface water resources development has been reached in some regions of high demand, and it has become necessary to consider inter-basin and interstate surface water transfer schemes.

c) Increased flooding problems

Ironically, at times of water shortages, parts of Malaysia face significant flood problems. Although floods are natural phenomena arising from excessive rainfall overwhelming existing waterways for a while, uncontrolled development activities in watershed areas and along river corridors can increase the severity of floods. The high rate of sedimentation in the rivers has adversely affected their drainage capacity, leading to more frequent floods in downstream areas and to more intense flooding. Incidences of flash floods in urban areas are on the rise due to the runoff characteristics of built-up areas.

The high rainfall during the monsoon results in large areas being subjected to flooding. It has been estimated that altogether about 29 000 km2 or nine percent of the total land area of Malaysia are flood-prone, affecting some 12 percent of the population. The average annual flood damage was estimated at RM100 million in 1980, but this has increased due to urban expansion and the escalation of land and property prices.

Absolute control over floods is rarely feasible either physically or economically. However, flood mitigation measures are undertaken to reduce flood damage to a minimum, consistent with the cost involved. Besides the construction of dams and reservoirs and the improvement of river systems, measures to increase infiltration and to store the excess water in small ponds and retention basins are being promoted. The Department of Irrigation and Drainage produces a storm water management manual to address the incidence of flash floods in urban areas.

d) Environmental degradation

The development of public utilities such as water supply, sewerage, and urban drainage and flood mitigation programmes helps to promote economic growth and improve the quality of life. However, this economic development and the resulting rapid urbanization and industrialization have given rise to problems of increased water pollution.

The main sources of organic water pollution are domestic and industrial sewage, effluent from palm oil mills, rubber factories and animal husbandry. Mining operations, housing and road development, logging and clearing of forest are major causes of high concentration of suspended sediments in the rivers. In several urban and industrial areas, organic pollution of water has resulted in environmental problems and adversely affected aquatic life. In addition to organic wastes, rivers remain a convenient means of solid waste disposal. A major portion of household refuse which is not collected, burnt or buried finds its way into drains and rivers. In the Klang Valley, an estimated 80 tons of waste ends up in the river system every day. River water quality and pollution control need to be addressed urgently since 98 percent of the total water used originates from rivers. Almost all of the investments in water-related infrastructure depend on reasonable river water quality.

e) Low efficiency of water use

Efficiency of water use in general is low. Irrigation efficiency is in the range of 40 to 50 percent, because almost all of the irrigation systems are open systems designed to take advantage of flooding. As irrigation water is charged on a per-area basis rather than on volume used and is relatively cheap, there is little incentive for farmers to use the water efficiently. There is also a high proportion of unaccounted-for water in urban water supply systems, as one quarter to one third of the domestic and industrial water is lost before it reaches the consumers. These losses are the result of leaks in the distribution systems and of illegal connections. As the physical limits of water supply are being reached, more emphasis is now placed on reducing the losses and thus increasing the net supply through improved efficiency in water use.

f) Increased expectations of the people

Since Independence, Malaysia has undergone rapid economic and social development and, together with better education, this has boosted people’s expectations of better standards of living. Water shortages and flooding are no longer thought of as natural disasters to be endured and accepted. At the same time, environmental awareness in the country has grown, as reflected in the growing number of public complaints on environmental pollution. This reflects both the increase in the number of pollution sources due to the higher level of economic activities or the encroachment of new housing areas around existing factories or industries, and a greater awareness of the dangers of environmental pollution.

The increased expectations of the people will bring about heavier demands on the water resources, both for water supply and for pollution control. In the context of increased demand from population growth and industrialization competing for diminishing water availability, the need for optimum utilization of water takes on greater urgency, moving towards efficiency and effectiveness of use, as well as conservation and sustainability.

3. A possible water scenario (Ref 7)

A quarter century ago when the idea was mooted, Malaysia, which attained developed status in 2020, five years ahead of schedule, simultaneously realized and sustained the supporting vision “to ensure adequate and safe water for all”. The country now prides itself on having a water sector that is managed efficiently and in an integrated manner. This became possible largely through smart partnership agreements entered, as early as the start of the new millennium, between the states and the federal government and facilitated by the National Water Resources Council. Water, apart from being regarded as an economic and social commodity, was recognized as an essential convenience calling for cooperation rather than conflict.

Efficiency of water use in all subsectors is high and comparable to the best in the world, facilitated by the adoption of appropriate technologies, management systems and practices developed through continuing investments in R&D. Demand management is widely practiced and water is reused and recycled, wherever possible. These efforts have contributed to an overall reduction in per-capita water withdrawal and in the use of water resources in the country.

Uniform and innovative policies and legislation implemented in all states provided the enabling environment together with the legal and financial instruments to effectively deal with the rational development of the water sector for equitable allocation to all users, to answer domestic, industrial, agricultural, hydropower and ecosystem needs.

Strong institutions built around river basin entities manage both land and water matters in an integrated manner, supported by well thought out catchment and river basin management plans and using comprehensive databases and decision support systems models. Successful implementation of sound communication strategies and programmes has led to stakeholders and the community being involved in planning and management, especially at the local level.

These strategic actions and initiatives have made it possible for the people to enjoy uninterrupted, safe and quality water “on tap” and at affordable prices. Pricing policies have enabled cost recovery for investments and encouraged competitive water delivery services through greater private-sector participation.

The adoption of eco-friendly farming and industrial practices, provision of extensive sewerage services and waste management systems, and strict enforcement, have reduced significantly point and non-point pollution sources. These measures have contributed to a reversal of trends in the pollution of water sources. Most rivers now, including the Klang River, have been fully restored. Aquatic life has returned to once polluted rivers. Tourism and recreation flourish in the water environment.

In the agricultural sector, productivity expressed in crop yields per unit of water are comparable to the best in the world, the result of improved water management and farming systems adopting high-yielding crop varieties that have been tested bio-safe.

Water shortages are no longer an issue. Most flooding has been mitigated through both structural and non-structural means except in extreme monsoon flood events, for which early-warning systems and flood fighting and rescue measures are in place.


1. The national vision messages

Based on the visioning process conducted at the national consultation meeting held on 28 June 1999, the national water vision has been formulated as follows:

In support of Vision 2020 (towards achieving developed-nation status), Malaysia will conserve and manage its water resources to ensure adequate and safe water for all (including the environment).
The key objectives of the vision are as follows:

2. Driving forces in the water sector

As a result of the visioning exercise, a number of driving forces were identified which are expected to greatly affect the water sector scenario in the first quarter of the 21st century. These can be categorized under demographic, social, economic, environmental and technological, and governance headings.

The three demographic driving forces identified are: (a) continued population growth, (b) rapid urbanization and (c) migration patterns. These will have broad implications, including increased demand for municipal water, expansion of irrigated agriculture to produce more food, conversion of agricultural land for urban and industrial expansion, and pollution of water resources by urban, industrial and agricultural wastewater discharges.

Lifestyles and cultural preferences and prevalent poverty will continue to be an important social concern affecting the sector. Affluence increases water consumption, often to the point of overuse.

The driving forces in the economic setting are the adoption of market-based economic policies, the availability and condition of water, and industrialization. These will lead to further pressure on water resources due to increasing demand for industrial use and increasing water pollution due to industrial effluents.

In the environmental arena, the driving forces expected to affect the sector include: (a) overexploitation and/or pollution of surface and groundwater, (b) the decreasing integrity and health of aquatic ecosystems and (c) climatic changes. The most powerful trend, however, is the increasing public concern over environmental degradation; it will contribute an important and useful perspective to the process of decision-making in resource development and management.

The technology identified as having great potential impact on the water sector relates to efficient water use and distribution, to water pollution, and to the selection of drought-, pest- and salt-resistant crops that are expected to reduce water usage and, subsequently, enhance water availability. This will include water reuse and water-recycling technology and the use of renewable energies in the water sector.

The driving forces related to governance include institutional and legal reforms and stakeholder participation in the process of decision-making in water resources management. This will also include the shift from water supply management to water demand management and the management of water resources within the carrying capacity of the river basins.


The set of initiatives that need to take place in order to achieve the key objectives of the vision is evaluated based on the four challenges towards a better water future. These challenges are:

The challenges, strategic orientations and actions suggested are given in Table 6, overleaf.

The assumptions underlying the success of the actions are (i) the existence of strong political will, (ii) availability of financial and technical resources from government or development partners and private sector ventures, (iii) effective institutional set-up, (iv) effective enforcement, (v) sustained joint ventures through public-private partnership and (vi) networking at national, regional and global levels.

Table 6. Framework for action



Managing our water resources efficiently and effectively (addressing both quantity and quality aspects)

The strategy is to:

  • Practice integrated water resources management
  • Balance withdrawal/use and conservation of water
  • Manage water resources effectively and efficiently
  • Protect and allocate water equitably

  • Formulate a national water policy and comprehensive water legislation and guidelines
  • Establish an efficient institutional framework, such as river basin authorities
  • Ensure stakeholder participation in the decision-making process
  • Achieve capacity building within water-related institutions and promote water awareness in all water-using sectors
  • Develop innovative technologies with respect to wise water use, water and wastewater treatment, water reuse and recycling and alternative water sources
  • Engage in extensive research and development in the water management sector
  • Institute efficient water demand and water supply management

Moving towards integrated river basin management

The strategy is to:

  • Develop federal, state and cross-sectoral coordination mechanisms for river basin management
  • Develop mechanisms for effective stakeholder participation
  • Ensure equitable sharing of water resources in each river basin
  • Manage river basins through the ecosystem approach
  • Minimize water pollution, floods and drought

  • Enable the National Water Resources Council to oversee interstate cooperation on water resources development and river management, including the development of a national water policy
  • Establish a state-level cross-sectoral coordination institution
  • Organize regular state and national workshops involving all stakeholders
  • Develop pilot projects in selected river basins
  • Promote networking and better organization of stakeholders
  • Ensure easy access to information
  • Carry out assessment studies/protection for each river basin
  • Develop water use/allocation policies and master plans for each river basin
  • Introduce incentives/disincentives towards equitable water distribution
  • Assess the ecosystem status, services and sensitivity in each river basin
  • Designate ecosystems for protection and restoration
  • Establish monitoring and enforcement mechanisms
  • Develop a flood-control master plan and drought contingency plans, including land-use guidelines for each catchment
  • Develop water-quality management taking into consideration the carrying capacity of the rivers and sustainable development indicators
  • Map out all the river basins and develop river basin classification/carrying capacity schemes to guide future development/environment control activities
  • Tackle hill/slope development and associated erosion and sedimentation

Translating awareness into political will and capacity

The strategy is to:

  • Promote political awareness of the water sector
  • Mobilize mass media/NGOs over water awareness
  • Develop multi-stakes discussion and dialogues on relevant solutions
  • Monitor the implementation of agreed solutions and amend the policies based on the feedback

  • Submit information/recommendations for the water sector to the highest authority
  • Provide the water sector with enough staff and adequate training
  • Ensure water sector networking (national, regional and international)
  • Strengthen water-related institutions
  • Build up the water sector database and make for easy dissemination
  • Encourage dialogue among stakeholders at different levels and locations and publish the outcome of the consultations
  • Have the sustainability of the water sector monitored by independent groups
  • Use the recommendations by monitoring bodies to amend strategies
  • Promote wise water use by all users
  • Introduce the ‘polluters pay’ principle
  • Set up an effective enforcement agency

Moving towards adequate, safe and affordable water services befitting developed-nation status by 2020

The strategy is to:

  • Provide safe water to all
  • Adopt water-demand management
  • Improve wastewater management
  • Improve governance
  • Go for capacity building
  • Promote public-private partnership

  • Review and update standards regularly
  • Develop a master plan for supply management
  • Continuously improve water technology
  • Practice good governance
  • Introduce water-related curricula into the education system
  • Promote greater cooperation among all stakeholders
  • Introduce acceptable water-pricing mechanisms
  • Enhance opportunities for water training
  • Set up a national water institute to look into the best practices in the water sector
  • Enhance research on high-yield and drought-resistant crops
  • Institute efficient water supply systems

1. Implementation of the national water vision

The key policies and the players, milestones and financial resources needed in the implementation of the national water vision are given in Table 7.

Table 7. Implementation of the national water vision

Key policies



Financial resources

1. Endorsement and acceptance of the national water vision by all stakeholders

· Economic Planning Unit (EPU)
· Related state agencies


RM200 000

2. Establishment of river basin organizations

· National Water Resources Council
· State Legislative Council (SLC)


RM2 000 000 per state

3. Establishment of a mechanism for coordination and monitoring

· EPU/Implementation Coordination Unit
· State EPUs (SEPU)
· Water regulators

· National water policy: 2001
· Contemporary legislation: 2003-2005
· Water resource allocation: 2003-2005
· Water pricing policy: 2003
· Institutional transformation and capacity building: 2005
· Water standards (raw, treated and effluent): 2005

4. Sensitize, and facilitate the involvement of, NGOs in the implementation of the framework for action



RM250 000

5. Enhancement of public awareness of the national water vision

· Min. of Education
· Min. of Information


6. Establishment of a mechanism for participatory management of stakeholders in all subsectors

· Operating agencies


7. Maintain and regularize dialogue among key partners of the national water vision



RM80 000 for 2 workshops per year

NB: MWP: Malaysian Water Partnership
2. The Eighth Malaysian Plan (2001-2005) and the Third Outline Perspective Plan (2001-2010)

The Malaysian Water Partnership should be invited by the Economic Planning Unit to be a member of the technical working group preparing the Eighth Malaysian Plan (2001-2005) and the Third Outline Perspective Plan (2001-2010). The immediate issues that need to be addressed in both plans are shown in Table 8.

Table 8. Water sector issues to be addressed in the Eighth Malaysian Plan (2001-2005) and the Third Outline Perspective Plan (2001-2010)


Remark and action

1. National water vision

The adoption of a national water vision to ensure continuous supply of water in terms of quantity and quality to meet all needs, including those of the environment. This vision shall be one of the main agenda in the sustainable national development plan. The strategy guidelines and plan of action to realize the vision are formulated, adopted and disseminated to all stakeholders, so that everybody is committed to conserve water resources and their ecosystems. Water is everybody’s business.

2. Policy and law

The national water policy shall be formulated by the federal government and adopted by the state governments. The policy encompasses integrated management of land and water resources based on river basins, and the protection of watersheds and aquifers. The policy guides interstate water transfers, allocation of water to users, dam monitoring and safety, and development activities in watersheds, including the vicinity of dam reservoirs. Contemporary laws are enacted to facilitate the implementation of the national water policy and shall be adopted by the state governments.

3. River basin organizations

The state governments are recommended to set up water management institutions similar to the Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS). This will contribute to the implementation of best practice in the management of water resources to ensure sustained supply of good-quality water. Laws are enacted to support these institutions. The human resources of the institutions comprise inter-discipline water professionals able to overcome present and future challenges in the national water sector.

4. Pollution

Activities which pollute water resources are monitored and corrected. The surveillance of watersheds is assisted by remote-sensing techniques to detect illegal activities and overcome water pollution problems. The polluted rivers are restored in stages, with the participation of all stakeholders. Awareness campaigns are made among the riverine population and the parties responsible for the water-polluting activities. The principle of ‘polluters pay’ will be enforced. The programme of restoration of water resources will only be successful if it begins at source, that is, with the control of polluting sources.

5. Groundwater

Groundwater exploration programmes are implemented, especially in the main river basins, to identify potential aquifers, and protection zones are provided to safeguard this important resource. Guidelines for the development of potential polluting activities and the appropriate laws will be formulated and enforced.

6. Water-demand management

Water-supply management shall be replaced by water-demand management in order to minimize the exploitation of new water sources to meet the increasing water demand. Water-demand management consists of all activities to increase efficiency in water supply and water usage and promote water recycling. Incentives will be given to industries that practice water reuse since they contribute directly to water-demand management and to the reduction of effluents. New housing, commercial and industrial estates shall be fitted with water-saving devices, including rainwater harvesting devices, and the new drainage concept of zero peak flow contribution from developed areas shall be implemented.

7. Research and development

R&D activities in the water sector are enhanced and the water sector becomes a major sector in the Intensified Research Priority Areas programme. A centre is established to coordinate R&D activities, provide direction for research, allocate funding and act as the National Database and Reference Centre. The centre is staffed with water professionals from different disciplines and incentives are provided to attract the best local and foreign water professionals.


The effective implementation of integrated water resources management (IWRM) will contribute to the realization of the national water vision in 2025. Reform and initiatives are needed to provide an adequate and enabling environment for this purpose. They include:

Many different visions can be described. Without some positive vision, without some thought about what truly sustainable water use means, Malaysia risks continuing on a path that will take her further and further in the wrong direction. Whether we succeed in ensuring that the future we want is the future we get will depend almost entirely on whether large numbers of people, water experts, specialists in other fields, policymakers and stakeholders generally, are convinced it is the future we need. The way forward to realize the national water vision is to establish associated programmes in the Eighth Malaysian Plan and the Third Outline Perspective Plan. Water is everybody’s business and we should endeavour to make every drop count.


1. Government of Malaysia/JICA, 1982. National Water Resources Study, Malaysia, Sectoral Report, Volume 18

2. Water Supply Branch, Public Works Department, 1998. Malaysia Water Industry Report 97/98

3. Keizrul Abdullah and Azuhan Mohamed, 1998. Water - A situation appraisal and possible actions at the community level. Seminar on local communities and the environment II, Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

4. Economic Planning Unit, 1996. Seventh Malaysian Plan 1996-2000

5. Sewerage Services Department, 1998. Sewerage Services Report 1994-1997

6. Department of Environment, 1999. Malaysia Environmental Quality Report 1998

7. Shahrizaila Abdullah, 1999. Towards a Malaysian and global vision for water, life and the environment. Workshop on the sustainable management of water resources in Malaysia - a review of practical options, Shah Alam, Malaysia

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