What Is It Like To Not Have Clean Water?

Scientifically, a human being could not live more than 8 to 21 days without water[1]. It is a necessity. We need it to live. It is a basic human right to have access to clean water. It is a part of us and 60% of our bodies contain fluid. 

Water also happens to be the very element that is crucial to socio-economic advancements, disease-free communities and the very survival of the human race itself. 

Source: Unsplash

Such is the importance of water, yet there are communities around the world that are deprived of proper access to clean water sources. In Malaysia, the marginalized community —  the Orang Asli, the stateless and the refugees — do not have the means and access clean water. 

Inaccessibility to clean water could introduce a plethora of issues to the affected community — health problems, improper sanitation, poor hygiene levels and even loss of income. This is why the United Nations acknowledges universal access to clean water as a fundamental human right and a crucial step towards enhancing living standards[2].

Surrounded By Dirty Water

East Malaysia is home to an estimated 800,000 stateless individuals and a large number of them belong to the Bajau Laut ethnicity. Till today, a sizable population still live in wooden houseboats and stilt houses built on shallow waters[3]

Source: Archdaily

The irony is that though they live on azure blue waters and have expansive views of the big blue ocean, the Bajau Laut have little access to clean, drinkable and safe water. Pulau Berhala in Sandakan, Sabah is one such instance where the stateless community resides. Surrounded by human waste, rubbish and animal carcasses, the absence of a proper waste management system makes their living condition unacceptable[3]

Source: Channel News Asia

Furthermore, countless stateless households would tread through the sewerage, in search of recyclable materials — plastic bottles, wooden planks and metal sheets — that would later be sold off so that they could afford food for the family. Children are commonly seen doing this so that they could help their parents[3]

We never really got used to the smell, but we don’t have a choice. -Stateless Community[3]

Health in Jeopardy

The Orang Asli community make up 0.7% of the West Malaysian population, yet it was found that their health condition is far worse than the national average level. They are prone to contracting parasitic infections — with rates as high as 90% among some communities — and infant mortality rates were twice the national figures[4]

orang asli village
Source: Business Today

The source of their plight? The absence of clean water. 

53% of Orang Asli communities do not have access to piped water[5]

These communities get their water through natural sources such as ponds, lakes, rivers, hills and catchment areas. Water gathered from those places are used for cooking, drinking, washing and cleaning. 

Source: Global Peace Foundation

The Global Peace Foundation began collaborating with a few Orang Asli communities to grapple with these water issues. The Communities Unite for Purewater (CUP) initiative was formed through countless workshops, observations, and interviews as they gathered data and brainstormed solutions. As a result, water filters were installed and education programmes on hygiene and sanitation were held which in turn, greatly improved the lives of these people[6]

It shows in our health too. We don’t suffer from diarrhoea and fevers as much as before. -Orang Asli[6]

The Urban Water Conundrum

Approximately 92% of Malaysians have access to clean drinking water while 82% have access to hygienic sanitation services[7].

Selangor, however, has been experiencing frequent, unscheduled water supply interruptions. Home to more than 6 million Malaysians, one would perceive that their water supply facilities to be top-notch and that sudden disruptions would be kept to a minimum. 

Source: Unsplash

However, in 2017 itself, Selangor has suffered the highest number of sudden water cuts at 19,061 out of 61,517 incidents nationwide[8]. Such disruptions would have likely brought implications to the livelihood of the people, especially to those who run small businesses.

Prolonged water cuts were estimated to cost over RM2 billion in economic losses as it brings productivity to a halt while impacting various sectors[9]

While the rich and wealthy could just pack up and stay at hotels, those who live paycheck to paycheck will need to do all they can to get on with their daily routine with the absence of water[10]. On top of that, these disruptions became so frequent, the people of Selangor felt like it was second nature to them whenever it took place. Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) would alert residents over social media so that they had time to prepare and store water[11].

Source: Vulcan Post

Water is so vital yet most of us often take it for granted because of the ease of access we have to clean water. It is an overlooked necessity that is so common, many of us forget that it is a basic human right. Access to water that is safe to drink and enough to keep ourselves clean should not be a problem in this day and age. By saying there is ‘no water’ we are saying  ignore thirst, and forget about health and sanitation. 

Incidentally, it is World Water Day on March 22, 2021. Remember the 2.7 billion people worldwide with difficulties accessing water the next time you turn on the tap[12]. Consider your water usage and conserve where you possibly can. 

Explore Our Sources: 

  1. P. Kottusch. (2009). Survival time without food and drink. National Library of Medicine. Link
  2. Koshland Science Museum. (2021). Safe Drinking Water Is Essential. Link 
  3. Wiki Impact. (2021). Ever Wondered Where Stateless Communities Live? Link
  4. N. E. Fatin. (2016). A tale of two communities: intestinal polyparasitism among Orang Asli and Malay communities in rural Terengganu, Malaysia. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Link
  5. Wiki Impact. (2020). Do all Malaysians have access to clean water? Link
  6. E. Rhule. (2018). Clean Water for All: A Case Study of Malaysia’s Orang Asli. Our World. Link
  7. F. F. Loh. (2018). Water for all. The Star. Link
  8. I. Lim. (2019). Klang Valley water disruption: Why does it happen so often? The Malay Mail. Link
  9. M. Abdul Aziz & S. R. Ishak. (2018). Water disruption may lead to billion Ringgit losses. The New Straits Times. Link
  10. N. A. Muhammad. (2020). Water supply disruptions devastating Klang Valley residents. The New Straits Times. Link
  11. N. Foo. (2017). Shah Alam, Subang Jaya folk unfazed by water cuts. The Star. Link
  12. World Wildlife Foundation. (2012). Water scarcity affects 2.7 billion, finds new detailed report. Link

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