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Penang water disruption: Is it a question of no maintenance or lack of money for maintenance?

It is difficult to understand why we are faced with this problem

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“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The announced two-to-four-day disruption of water in Penang has rightly upset and made many Penangites very angry and frustrated. This kind of disruption for that long a period has never happened before.

Going without piped water for four days is unthinkable. The irony is in the epigram quoted above. People living on an island perpetually surrounded by water are denied the supply of piped water! We, the people, who have to endure this inconvenience, cannot accept this situation calmly. It is unnatural not to be upset and angry.

Why such a long disruption? Couldn’t this be avoided? Couldn’t this be staggered? Why did it take such a long time to discover this problem? A car is serviced regularly to keep it in tip-top running condition. Isn’t a similar workout required to maintain undisrupted water supply?

The efficiency of the Penang Water Authority has dipped drastically. Last month, we had a water disruption which caused a lot of anger and inconvenience. And not long after that, another massive disruption is due from 10 to14 January! This is just too much.

Factories are hard hit and they are fuming – and rightly so! Their loss due to this periodic and almost regular disruption will run into millions. If they consider relocating elsewhere, it will hit Penang economically. Thousands of Penangites will lose their jobs and suffer terribly.

Just last night, a friend of mine living in Island Park found a ruptured water pipe along the road with water gushing out at 21:00. Like a responsible citizen – which he is – he informed the water authority. This morning, while passing the same area at 09:00, to his horror, he found the water still running. How much water was wasted during the 12 hours! He took a picture of the running water and sent it to the state assembly member’s office. I hope they would have acted immediately to remedy the situation!

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We need to know what maintenance is undertaken and its frequency. Why couldn’t the valve replacements have been carried out much earlier? Why wait till the last minute to undertake these valve repairs and pipe replacements? Was there no sign earlier to alert the water authority to this problem?

Is there sufficient allocation of funds to undertake regular maintenance so that we are not caught off-guard? It is difficult to understand why we are faced with this problem at this stage.

In commenting on this predicament, someone suggested that we consumers should have conserved water and taught our children to do so. We note this cunning shift of blame with utter disgust. Frankly, is this a problem of conservation of water or a question of maintenance of service?

We are told we should store water for at least two days. It is easier said than done. It requires purchasing big storage containers. Those who can will face no problem. What about those who have no space to store these containers in their homes? What about those who have no means to purchase them? What do the homeless and jobless do when they are struggling for one decent meal a day?

It is worrying to think of what these homeless people are going to do. There are those who make use of public toilets for washing, having a bath and cleaning themselves. With water disruptions, they will be unable to use the public toilet facilities. With no flush facilities, can you imagine how the toilets will stink to high heaven?

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What has happened to the budget for maintenance? The monthly budget provided for maintenance must be a big sum. Is it a deserved monthly payment for carrying out the expected maintenance work? Somebody must justify this almost scandalous recurrence to deny the glitter in the Pearl of the Orient!

How many teams will be working to restore water to Penangites? Will they be working round the clock? We hope this failing will provide a valuable lesson to the water authority so that it will not recur. Let it be a lesson well learnt!

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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10 Jan 2024 10.37am

It is a risk management verses capital outlay, public participation, cost & benifits… question. Alternative sources of water supplies with multiple pipings alternatives need huge capital outlay which may translate to higher cost to consumers.

With this outage, Penang still stand high above water supply in the Klang Valley

10 Jan 2024 9.04am

OMG….4 days no water, how about those having animals? we need water daily to clean
animals urine & s***. Bad smell also can cause sickness…nowdays covid cases also high. I’m an animal lover, I hv cats in my house. Pls help…cannot wait until 4 days, not enough water to clean the animals.

Tan EH
Tan EH
9 Jan 2024 5.44am

Notice how cunning they now subtly tell us how low is the water lecel in the dam. What has it got to do with the so blamed maintenance issue?
Also be assured certain politicians see this as an opportunity to up their political game of competition with blaming and smearing stunts.
Four days of dried pipes. If this can happen, i am worried if the sporadic flood issues have been addressed at all.

Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
9 Jan 2024 7.15pm
Reply to  Tan EH

Tan EH, the sporadic flood issue was allowed to recur and even spread so
that an ‘industry’ can be eventually created, with annual allocations
provided heading northwards.

Over the years, I have seen for myself the purchase of even motor boats
in several kampung houses whenever I tour some of our Malayan states.
Where did they get these motorboats? I’ll be damned if these come from the
annual government allocations?

It’s just like our previously potable water. I remember drinking from our
household taps in the 1950s. Now, this is no longer the practice. We buy
water in bottles from the ‘industry’ we have willy-nilly created. Let us be
perpetually vigilant to such things.

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