Water and Climate Change Youth Survey Report: Article #1
With contributions from Farisah, Felix Culas, Janak Preet Kaur, Jasreena Kaur, and Reza Abedi.
In August 2020, the Malaysia Prime Minister’s Office launched a research study — the Water Sector Transformation 2040 (WST 2040) to investigate water sector reform, aiming to transform it into a “dynamic growth engine for the country”. Water is a crucial element needed to sustain life and the ecosystem, which in turn regulates the water cycle; if ecosystems are disrupted, both water insecurity and climate change will escalate.
Water and sanitation have been formally recognized as human rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010 and 2015, respectively. Further, international human rights laws also imposed obligations on countries to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The Climate Change Impact and Adaptation task force of WST 2040 engaged members of the Malaysian Youth Delegation to develop a youth survey, aimed to collate the youth’s opinions and their policy recommendations on climate change and the local water sector. It was open for responses from the 26th of February 2021 to the 4th of April 2021, and successfully garnered valid responses from a total of 168 youths. The definition of youths here was based on that provided by the Children and Youth constituency to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (YOUNGO), which defines youths as people aged between 18-35.
Figure 1: Distribution of participants’ main sources of water
The survey showed that 96% of the participants view access to drinking water and sanitation as a human right, with 1% in disagreement and 3% indicating they “don’t know”. It was also found that 96% of Malaysian youths are dependent on a single water supply, and this can be seen in Figure 1.
Figure 2: Distribution of participants’ main sources of water, by location (urban/rural)
Based on Figure 2, most participants are dependent on tap water and followed by bottled water. Notably, almost all participants that source water from wells, streams, rivers, and lakes are based in rural regions.
Water hazards may disrupt the water supply for a substantial amount of time, hence relying on a sole source of water weakens water security. This situation leaves society vulnerable to health risks due to the limited access to sanitation and basic needs.
Figure 3: Participants’ awareness of climate change risks
The issue of having a sole water source is connected to climate risks as well as water hazards. As shown in Figure 3, out of 106 participants who answered, most were aware of at least five climate risks out of the seven presented. This result indicates a good general understanding of climate change among most participants.
Figure 4: Water related hazards experienced by participants
According to Figure 4, the most common water hazards experienced by the participants are water rationing/cuts and floods. As responded in the survey, steps have been taken by the respondents’ municipalities — with the majority of measures being a temporary supply of alternative water sources and improvements to supply infrastructure — both of which may have been actions taken to solely address the water cuts.
Figure 5: Municipal action against water related hazards experienced
With reference to Figure 5, although the statistics reflect that most municipalities have taken the initiative to mitigate water cuts, most are temporary measures. Only a small percentage of municipalities were identified to be implementing long-term measures. The number of participants who experienced flood outnumbered participants whose municipalities implemented damage prevention measures by almost three-fold. Even more concerning is that 14% of participants live in municipalities that have not carried out any measures to address the hazards.
Further querying the aforementioned personal experiences of youth with water cuts and floods found that human wellbeing and ecosystem health are the top concerns of youth in Malaysia when discussed in relation to water security. The result is analogous to the definition of water security as stated in Bakker et al. (2013) as “sustainable access on a watershed basis to adequate quantities of water of acceptable quality to ensure human and ecosystem health”.
The respondents are also concerned about the frequent water pollution issues and agreed that one of the problems is that the current regulations or laws regarding water pollution allow large corporations to escape with only punishments. These concerns correspond to the most voted statement by the respondents which was that irresponsible parties who are deteriorating the water sources and natural environment should be penalized with strict and transparent punishments. This delineates their vote for the government to introduce heftier penalties to address the issues.
Essentially, the findings demonstrate that most municipalities — even those within the more developed and urban areas, are not mobilizing their resources efficiently to withstand the impending threat of climate risks.
At this juncture, it is then pertinent to discuss the Environmental Quality Act (EQA) 1974 — the foundational document of water governance in Malaysia. The EQA tables the guidelines on prevention and controlling of environmental pollution, which includes water and the punishments to those involved in environmentally detrimental actions. The lack of enforcement of the EQA can be manifested through the frequent recurrence of water pollution recently due to the inadequacy of fines imposed (Keeton-Olsen, 2020). Water policies in Malaysia were made individually by states on an ad hoc basis. Therefore, states do not have a centralised policy to adopt and this results in the existence of various acts and guidelines on water.
Water security is a wicked problem due to it being a highly politicized and complex issue. The potential impacts of uncertainties such as climate change risks can further threaten water security. The National Water Resources Policy (NWRP) was tabled in 2012 by the government to serve as a comprehensive guide to aid water and water resource governance in Malaysia. The policy takes into account various reports and studies from related stakeholders and emphasizes the plan to sustain and secure water resources for human and environmental needs. As water security is a cross-ministerial problem, NWRP complements existing policies from different ministries (Ministry of National Resources and Environment, 2012).
In the wake of the water pollution events in September 2020, which affected one million people in the Klang Valley, the Ministry of Water and Environment (KASA) introduced the Environmental Crime Prevention Unit (UCJAS). The establishment of UCJAS is aimed to strengthen the implementation of the EQA, Water Services Industry Act 2006, and Biosecurity Act 2007 (KASA, 2020). UCJAS also acts as a repository for environmental crimes which can be used to accelerate the investigation and legal response.
All in all, youths who participated in the survey are aware about the ongoing environmental issues and are negatively affected by the impacts. Water security is seen to jeopardize both human wellbeing and environmental health. Environmental criminals should be held accountable and more severe punishment should be imposed. The Government has various instruments to tackle these problems but their efficacy is still in question. Also, information surrounding the performance of the implementation of these policies are not made sufficiently accessible to the public. The increased awareness of environmental issues among youths can be viewed as progress in the sustainable development and climate change mitigation and adaptation scene. Therefore, more opportunities should be provided to the youths to participate in decision-making processes and more transparency in information sharing should be practiced, especially when it affects the livelihoods of fellow Malaysians.
1. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nation Habitat, World Health Organization. Fact Sheet No. 35, The Right to Water, August 2010, available from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet35en.pdf
2. Keeton-Olsen, D. (2020, December 23). Pollution, water cuts strengthen calls for environmental law reform in Malaysia. Mongabay Environmental News. Retrieved from https://news.mongabay.com/2020/12/pollution-water-cuts-strengthen-calls-for-environmental-law-reform-in-malaysia/
3. Bakker, K., Dunn, G., Norman, E., Allen, D., Cook, C., Albuquerque, R., & Simpson, S. (2013, January). Water Security Indicators: The Canadian Experience. Global Water Partnership. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323999865_Water_Security_Indicators_The_Canadian_Experience
4. Ministry of National Resources and Environment. (2020, September 15). Penubuhan Unit Cegah Jenayah Alam Sekitar (UCJAS) – Kerjasama Strategik Antara Kementerian Alam Sekitar dan Air (KASA) Dengan Kementerian Dalam Negeri (KDN). https://www.kasa.gov.my/ms/comm/pr/ucjas
5. Ministry of National Resources and Environment. (2012). National Water Resources Policy. https://www.kasa.gov.my/resources/air/2012_dasar_sumber_air_negara.pdf
6. General Assembly resolution 64/292, The human right to water and sanitation, A/RES/64/292 (28 July 2010), available from https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/64/292
7. General Assembly resolution 70/169, The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, A/RES/70/169 (17 December 2015), available from https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/169