Our Rights to Clean Water


“Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and therefore a basic human right.”

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General from 1997 to 2006

As we rushed to achieve a developed nation state by 2020 have we neglected a basic human right, a right to clean water? In Cameron Highlands, with the contamination of our  raw water due to the encroachment of illegal farms and settlements in our water catchment areas, short of having state of the art water treatment facilities to ‘cleanse’ our water adequately, the answer seems to be ‘yes’.

Why rights?

The human right to water entitles everyone without discrimination to sufficient safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affirmative water for personal and domestic use. Water is recognised as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights in a Resolution that was passed by the United Nations Assembly in July 2010. All UN member states have recognised it-including Malaysia.

By recognising water as human rights, people are defined as rights holder and States as duty bearers of water service provision. This means that the provision of water is not a matter of charity but a legal obligation. Rights holder can claim their rights and duty bearers must guarantee the rights of water without discrimination. Recognising the rights to water entitles individuals to demand it politically, administratively and judicially.

States must ensure that their commitment at the international level are translated to the national level. They must therefore implement the rights to water in national legislation, policies and plans. In Malaysia this is happening albeit at a snail’s pace.

The National Water Resources Policy was launched on the 24th March 2012 with the following statement.

“The security and sustainability of water resources shall be made a national priority to ensure adequate and safe water for all, through sustainable use, conservation and effective management of water resources enabled by a mechanism of shared partnership involving all stakeholders.”

Water Resource Management should be integrated and the principles of this have been incorporated into 5 year development plans since the 8th Malaysia Plan.

But water matters remains complicated in our country despite being blessed with an annual average rainfall of 2940 mm and lush tropical rainforest.

Here are some of the reasons why

1.Water is a state matter as provided in the Ninth Schedule, Article 74 of the Federal Constitution which allows states to manage water resources through:

a. the gazettement of water catchments

b.-the control of development

In Cameron Highlands in spite of highlighting the need to gazette our water catchment areas since 2005, through the mainstream and alternative media, through the local and foreign press, through official channels, through the State legislative assembly, the Pahang State Government has failed to do this. As a result, farms and settlements continue to flourish in these areas discharging their effluent into our water intake point.

Pesticide Packings found in the RiversPesticide Containersfarm waste sg terlafarm sg terlA

I recall a trip we made to the Sg Terla water catchment couple of years back when the chief environmentalist wanted to show us locals the pollution of our water source. So there we were, crowded together in this rickety looking ,corrugated zinc sheet outhouse by the edge of a tributary of Sg Terla, watching a burly volunteer with a large pail of water in his hands, poised to flush the toilet bowl. Another group of us were waiting at the other end where a black pipe from the outhouse ended over the stream. The volunteer poured, we waited, nothing happened…. Then the chief environmentalist shouted “Pour again!”  And lo behold, with a sickening plonk, out popped a dollop of this blackish brown material from the end of this pipe from the outhouse and right into the stream of Sg Terla. A short distance away was the intake point of the main source of water supply of Cameron Highlands. What a shocker!

Toilet with no Septic Tank in water catchment areaSG TERLA INTAKE POINTFree Flow into the intake point

Some of the streams feeding into the water intake point is biologically dead. Pesticides containers (some banned) are fished out regularly from these streams. Sediment at the bottom of the intake pond has been shown to contain traces of DDT some years back. Which step in our water treatment plants can remove these chemicals? Flocculation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection? I think our saving grace for the time being is Dilution!


So how large is our water catchment areas? The watershed of Sungai Terla and Sungai Icat extends from the western slopes of Gunung Siku to the eastern slopes of Gunung Irau and the Forest Reserve of Hulu Icat covering an estimated area of 4800 acres.




As one drives up from Ipoh, about a kilometre into the borders of Cameron Highlands, Gunung Siku would be on the left while a settlement at the MTD site would be on the right as the highway arches beautifully towards the right. A tributary of Sg Terla runs under the bridge from left to right. Before it passes through this settlement the river water is clear but after it passes the settlement the water becomes a putrid soup of human and animal intestinal discharge for us Cameron Highlanders and our visitors to ‘savour’, when it goes into the intake point of our largest water treatment plant. The 2 pictures below illustrates the sincerity of our State Administrators in protecting our catchment areas.

Picture of the MTD site in  2005


Pictures of the MTD site today


2. Water resources is presently regulated through an out dated legislation in most states.

At the Federal level attempts are being made to introduce legislation to improve water resource management and supply.

a.The Water Services Industry Act was passed in Parliament in 2006

b.National Water Services Commission Act was passed in 2007

c.-In 2012 The National Water Resources Act was drafted and is still in the consultation process

The Water Services Industry Act is an Act to provide for and regulate water supply services and sewerage services and for matters incidental thereto. In Pahang  PAIP ( Pengurusan Air Pahang Berhad) was licensed by the National Water Services Commission ( Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara) as an operator of water supply for the State of Pahang under this Act 655( The management of the drinking water supply which was previously under Jabatan Bekalan Air Pahang was corporatized and PAIP or Pengurusan Air Pahang Berhad was formed in2012 .PAIP is wholly owned by the State Government of Pahang.)  The function of PAIP is to supply clean water of satisfactory quality and quantity at an economical rate to the consumer to fulfil the social and economic needs for the State of Pahang

Clause 41 under this Act requires the water distribution licensee, in this case PAIP to ensure that the water supplied complies with the miniumum quality standards. See below:

“ Clause 41 of the Water Services Industry Act

(1) The water distribution licensee shall, when supplying water to any premises, ensure that at the time of supply the quality of water supplied complies with the minimum quality standards as prescribed by the Minister.

(2) The water distribution licensee shall ensure, as far as it is reasonably practicable, in relation to each source or combination of sources from which the licensee supplies water to any premises, that there is no deterioration in the minimum quality standards of the water which is supplied from time to time from that source or combination of sources.

(3) For the purposes of this section, water supplied by a water distribution licensee to any premises shall not be regarded as not complying with the prescribed minimum quality standards at the time of supply where the water has ceased to comply with the minimum quality standards only after leaving the licensee’s pipes.

(4) Any water distribution licensee who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding three hundred thousand ringgit ment for a term not exceeding three years or to both “

In other words under this Act PAIP is held accountable for the quality of our drinking water supplied and when you pay your water bill you have a right to clean water from PAIP.

For minimum standards of water click on this link…..http://kmam.moh.gov.my/public-user/drinking-water-quality-standard.html

Studies by universities and NGOs  are now ongoing to ascertain the quality of our drinking water supply in Cameron Highlands. Previous studies have confirmed that our drinking water supply has the presence of Escherichia.Coli, a faecal bacteria.

3. There is no single formally constituted entity that is presently empowered to plan coordinate,and execute the Integrated Water Resource Management .The National Water Resources Council (NWRC June 1998 ),whilst constituting a good coordinating body for water affairs, has not been provided with legal mandate for carrying out this function

So for the present moment water catchments areas remains under State. States should get their act together and take steps to gazette and protect their water catchments areas to prevent adverse environmental effects. Our rights to clean water should not be trampled on.