The Hidden Cost of Cheap Water in Malaysia | The Full Frontal

The Hidden Cost of Cheap Water in Malaysia

I think it’s safe to say that water — specifically, clean, fresh water — is essential for human life. 

Fortunately, unlike many other countries, we Malaysians live in a country that has an abundance of it. As a tropical country, we receive roughly 900 billion cubic metres of water each year — enough to fill 360,000,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

With so much water literally falling from the sky each year and over 1,800 rivers flowing all across the country, we should have more than enough water for everyone. So, why are so many Malaysians struggling to get access to clean water? 

How Much Water Do We Really Need?

water bucket
How much water should you use every day? Source from Malay Mail

Unfortunately, the problem is that many Malaysians seem to take our water supply for granted. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that each person use around 165 litres of water a day. This is enough to meet all your basic daily needs such as showering, washing, drinking, etc. 

However, according to the National Water Services Commission (SPAN), the average Malaysian uses around 201 litres of water every day — much higher compared to our neighbours such as Singapore (151 litres) and Thailand (193 litres)!

To maintain a sustainable supply of water, SPAN is trying to encourage Malaysians to cut our water usage down to 181 litres per person daily. 

Why Are Malaysians So Wasteful?

Water Watch Penang
Water Watch Penang is one of many local NGOs that are trying to raise awareness about Malaysia’s water issues. Source from

“Many Malaysians believe that water is a renewable resource and that shouldn’t be the case in light of today’s climate crisis,” said Dr Hong Chern Wern of the NGO Water Watch Penang (WWP), who pointed out that water catchment areas such as forests and rivers are in increasing danger due to human activity. 

WWP President Professor Dr Chan Ngai Weng believes that many Malaysians don’t take water conservation seriously due to lack of education. 

“Our education curriculum in the schools does not have a thorough environmental education subject or module, much less a water subject or module,” he said. “Currently, it is entirely left to NGOs to educate the school students and public about environmental and water education.”

Aside from that, Dr Chan added that many Malaysians didn’t take water issues seriously due to how cheap water is. While everyone is willing to cut down on costs such as electricity, phone bills, petrol, etc., local water is so cheap that few Malaysians are willing to go out of their way just to save a few cents. 

“I blame this squarely on the politicians who are afraid to revise the low domestic water tariffs,” said Dr Chan. 

Are Our Water Bills Really That Low?

Water Meter
When was the last time you checked your water meter? Source from The Star

Do Malaysia’s relatively low water tariffs explain why people are so ‘tidak apa‘ when it comes to water use? 

According to the data, the answer is “yes”. 

The Malaysian Water Industry Guide 2018 found that the state of Penang has the highest amount of daily per capita water use (277 litres) as well as the lowest water tariff structure in the country. 

Because it’s so heavily subsidised, Penangites only paid 22 sen per cubic metre (1,000 litres) for the first 20 cubic metres! 

In comparison, the people living in Selangor pay 57 sen per cubic metre for the first 20 cubic metres and use 222 litres of water daily. To put it simply, the more expensive water is, the less likely we are to waste it. 

Some Selangorians might complain that their bills are too expensive, but the truth is that even at these rates, we’re still being heavily subsidised. 

SPAN’s reports show that the cost of treating 1,000 litres of water is around RM2.31. However, the average domestic user only pays RM0.52 per 1,000 litres of water they use.

In other words, we’re not paying the full cost. 

If a household uses about 20,000 litres of water a month, their monthly bill will be about RM10.40 — far smaller than the actual cost of treating all that water (around RM46.20)!

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Water Tap
Our water bills may be going up soon. Source from Malay Mail

Water and Energy Consumers Association President T. Saravanan said that demands for clean treated water is always on the rise despite the fact that Malaysia’s natural water sources are diminishing. 

“Water shortages may occur more frequently in view of climate changes,” he said. “Apart from that, our water security is also increasingly jeopardised by the pollution occuring in our rivers, which are the main sources of raw water for the country.”

Last year, to prevent wastage, the Malaysian government announced plans to change the water tariff structure. The hope is that increasing the price will make people realise how valuable water is and encourage them to be less wasteful. 

What Can We Do To Reduce Water Wastage?

Water Cuts
If we don’t cut down on water consumption, water cuts are going to happen more and more often. Source from Straits Times

Unless we change our attitudes and stop taking water for granted, it’s only a matter of time before Malaysia goes from water shortages to a water crisis. Here are some simple ways to reduce water consumption in your everyday life: 


Instead of using a bathtub, switch to showers instead. A low-flow shower head can really help cut down on water costs. Try to keep your shower time to about eight minutes or less to reduce water consumption. 


Try to get plants that require less water to survive. Aside from that, use rainwater instead of tap water to water your plants. Trust me, the plants aren’t going to complain. 

Cleaning Up: 

You don’t need the tap to be on the whole time while you’re brushing your teeth, scrubbing dishes etc. You can also use a washing up bowl or plug to reduce water wastage while you’re washing up. 

Changing Our ‘Tidak Apa’ Attitudes

Dirty Rivers
Despite numerous awareness campaigns and clean up projects, many Malaysians still think it’s alright to treat our rivers like their personal tong sampah. Source from

One of the biggest roadblocks is Malaysian’s ‘tidak apa’ attitude towards water waste. A lot of people simply don’t care about issues like water wastage or water pollution until it affects them personally. 

If we want to avoid environmental catastrophe, then we must put aside this apathy and do our part to cut down on water wastage. Although it is easy to sit back and claim that this is “not my problem”, unless we act today, we may not be able to enjoy clean water tomorrow.