Using rainwater gets short shrift

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2007, 12:00am

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has been criticised for ordering local councils to force building owners to collect rainwater for domestic uses like washing cars, flushing toilets and watering plants.

Critics say the issue shows the failure of the government to provide clean drinking water.

'We are not a desert kingdom like Saudi Arabia or a tiny island like Singapore,' said opposition lawmaker Kula Segaran. 'We have abundant water only it is poorly managed.'

Mr Abdullah said on Tuesday collecting rainwater for domestic use would reduce wastage of 'precious treated water' that was now being used to wash cars, flush toilets, clean drains and water plants.

He said a law being drafted would make it mandatory for building owners to install rainwater collection systems.

'Low cost houses' would be exempted.

Mr Abdullah did not say when the law would likely take effect.

Under the proposed system, rainwater would be channelled from gutters into ponds or tanks, from where it could be drawn for uses other than drinking, cooking and bathing.

Opposition lawmakers, developers and a building owners' association poured cold water on the move, saying they were never consulted.

They also said rainwater collection systems were expensive and the benefits to consumers minimal.

Mr Segaran said the government should concentrate on improving water management, eliminating leaks and improving water quality.

'The drinking water is brownish and most Malaysians drink bottled mineral water,' he said.

The Real Estate Housing Developers Association opposes making the move mandatory because water is cheap and the savings are minimal.

Mr Abdullah's critics on the internet and chat groups were more vicious, likening the sudden move to another 'ill-digested, lopsided' announcement.

They said the government was rushing to pass laws without consultation, proper study and the cost to consumers and the building industry.

Health experts warned that if rainwater-collection systems were not well maintained they would cause water to stagnate on rooftops and gutters, causing mosquito populations to explode.

'There will be sharp increase in malaria and dengue cases,' said health expert S.K. Chan, writing in an internet chat group.