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Country background
Malaysia is located in South-East Asia between latitudes 1° and 7°N and longitudes 110° and 119°E. (See
Appendix 1 – Map of Malaysia). It consists of Peninsular Malaysia bordered to the North by Thailand, by the
South China Sea and Singapore to the South, and the Indonesian island of Sumatra to the East. The States of
Sabah and Sarawak, which are situated on the north-western coast of Borneo, are separated from Peninsular
Malaysia by 530 km of the South China Sea and share common borders with Brunei Darussalam and

The total land area of Malaysia is 329,758 km2 divided administratively into 13 states and 2 Federal
territories. It is home to a population of some 24 million people, nearly 40% of which live in rural areas.
Kuala Lumpur with a population of near 1.5 million is the seat of parliament and the commercial and
financial capital of the country while Putrajaya is the new central, federal administrative capital.

Although separated by the South China Sea, the two parts of Malaysia share a largely similar landscape
featuring coastal plains rising to densely forested hills and mountains. The highest point is Mount Kinabalu
(4095 m) on the island of Borneo.

The climate of Malaysia is equatorial with high humidity, and is characterised by the annual southwest (April
to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons. It has an annual rainfall volume of 320 billion
cubic meters (bcm) for Peninsular Malaysia; 194 bcm for Sabah, and 476 bcm for Sarawak.

Water resources and supply

All water sources are dependent on rainfall. Of the total average annual rainfall of about 320bcm for
Peninsular Malaysia some 47% run off as surface flow and is available for use. The total annual demand is
estimated to reach about 14bcm by 2020 which equates to 12% of the total water availability. However,
water supply management and development in Malaysia is not centralised, but is managed on a state-by-state
basis; and to cater for the differences in supply and demand inter-state water transfer programmes have been
implemented. To meet future requirements the National Water Resources Study (2000-2050), recommended
47 new dams and 3 new inter-state water projects among 62 water resource projects, including distribution

Streams or rivers with or without impounding reservoirs contribute about 99% of the raw water for water
supply in Malaysia with the remaining 1% of raw water coming from groundwater. Raw water is extracted at
the intake points along the riverbanks. Dams are constructed along rivers to create reservoirs and water is
drawn from these for water treatment plants throughout the country. The Department of Environment (DOE)
monitors the river basins to determine the water quality in relation to major pollution sources, while the
Ministry of Health (MOH) is responsible for monitoring the raw water quality in the reservoirs at the intake
points of the treatment plants. State Water Authorities or private companies then supply piped drinking water
from the treatment plants to the population.

In rural areas not connected to a treated water supply drinking water is obtained from rivers, ground and rain
water. Clean water from these sources is supplied via gravity feed systems, sanitary wells with or without
house connections, and by the collection of rainwater. Although limited in comparison to surface waters
groundwater still makes a significant contribution in terms of yield and availability, and will be an important
source in meeting future water demands for the public supply.

By the year 2000, 98% of the urban population in Malaysia were served through reticulated systems from
water treatment plants using all or some of the conventional treatment processes of aeration, coagulation and
flocculation, sedimentation, filtration and chlorination. However, the effectiveness of some smaller treatment
plants where only chlorination was used, are now under threat because of development.

By the same year 93.4% of the rural population also had access to safe drinking water, and in areas where the
supply was not through treated piped water systems nearly a quarter were supplied with safe water by the

MOH under their Rural Environmental Sanitation Programme where systems have been funded in part by
community participation, although in recent years this has been less successful. In areas nearer to towns the
MOH also funds the connection of homes to treated water supplies.

In rural areas potential water sources are identified from areas that have traditionally been known for good
water quality. After identification of such a source the water quality is tested against current standards, and if
found to be suitable is allowed to be used as a drinking water source by the community, however users are
still advised to boil the water before consumption.

The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme in its Country, Regional and Global Estimates on Water &
Sanitation gave a 2002 estimate for Malaysia as shown below:

Improved Drinking Water Coverage

Population Improved Sanitation Coverage
Total Urban Rural
Household Household Household
Total Urban Rural Total Total Total Total Urban Rural
Connection Connection Connection
(thousands) % % % % % % % %
% % %
23,965 63 37 95 - 96 - 94 64 - - 98

Water and health

Over the decade 1991 to 2000 there has been a decline in food, water and sanitation related diseases in
Malaysia, which can be attributed to improvements in the supply of safe water, hygienic food practices and

In the case of typhoid and paratyphoid the incidence rate has decreased to one-third of the level at the
beginning of the decade, and the number of cases of hepatitis A has decreased a similar amount. Dysentery,
after having shown a consistent fall during the first half of the decade had shown an increasing trend over the
latter half for as yet unidentified reasons. Cholera however is endemic in some of the Malaysian states and
has shown a variable incidence rate in line with outbreaks.

Pressures on resources and supply

Several potential sources of pollution of surface and groundwater are related to land use within the
catchment areas. Agricultural activities, industry and other human based activities from residential and
commercial areas are potential sources of contamination. The greatest risks to human health are from
microbiological contamination by sewage and from animal husbandry, agricultural chemicals, toxic
chemicals and heavy metals from industry, and from solid waste landfill sites.

Urban sewerage systems include centralised systems utilising activated sludge, extended aeration and
oxidation ponds (60%), individual household septic tanks (30%) leaving some 10% without adequate
facilities where sewage is commonly discharged directly into water courses. Septic tanks are often not
maintained properly or emptied regularly, merely becoming storage for sewage to be discharged untreated
into water courses particularly in older areas, and steps need to be taken to reduce or eliminate this. Effluents
from centralised sewage treatment plants are monitored, while those from septic tanks are not. In rural areas
pour flush latrines are commonly provided under the Rural Environmental Sanitation Programme

Solid waste management in urban areas is the responsibility of the local authorities where the frequency of
collection is usually 2-3 times per week in residential areas and daily in commercial areas. Disposal of this
waste is mainly into unlined solid waste landfills without treatment of leachate, and many are located within
catchment areas and pose a potential threat to water supplies. Programs are underway to upgrade these sites
to sanitary landfills, and to introduce disposal by incineration or composting. Policies, regulations and action
plans have been developed and privatisation of waste management has been introduced which offers more
efficient disposal of waste in the future.

Water quality surveillance and monitoring
The lead agency for water quality monitoring and surveillance is the MOH through its Engineering Services
Division whose responsibility is to ensure the quality and safety of all drinking water and the resolution of
problems in provision and supply. The supply of water and the establishment of associated standards and
practices are the responsibility of Federal, State and District Works Departments and the analysis of water
samples falls to the Federal and Regional Departments of Chemistry. The protection of water resources and
control of pollution sources is the responsibility of Federal and Regional Environment Departments.
Relationships between and within agencies are promoted through a National Technical Committee for
Drinking Water Quality Surveillance.

There are plans to fully privatise water supply under a State Water Supply Company with a regulatory body
formed to control operations. Privatised treatment plants may act as a contractor to the State government who
control supply while in some cases treatment and supply are already fully privatised.

A National Drinking Water Quality Surveillance Programme (NDWQSP) is in place to monitor treated water
quality and safety and to protect and control raw water sources and supplies through monitoring and sanitary
surveys. It covers all public and privately owned water supplies, both urban and rural, and serves to alert
public health and water supply staff of actual and potential problems with drinking water quality and safety
allowing corrective or preventive actions to be taken before impacts on health occurs.

Monitoring is undertaken at fixed intervals from specific sampling points throughout the supply system from
intakes at the treatment plant through to the distribution system. Of the 30 or so parameters being monitored,
some are analysed in the field while the remainder are sent to the Department of Chemistry (DOC) for
analysis. Values exceeding standards are reported to the State Health Department who initiate actions from
the relevant water authorities to take whatever remedial action is necessary to return the water supply to a
safe condition. Information from these actions is used to develop appropriate protocols and procedures to be
used by the authorities.

Sanitary surveys are used to identify actual and potential sources of contamination of both water sources and
supplies through on-site examinations of any condition or practice that may pose a threat to human health.
Data gathered from monitoring and sanitary surveys is collated, processed and evaluated at the District, State
and Federal Health Departments and potential risks are conveyed to relevant authorities for remedial action.
The same data is also used for the development of policy and management mechanisms and the resolution of
problems associated with the water supply system.

Regular examinations of institutional arrangements are also undertaken by personnel from the Drinking
Water Quality Unit of the MOH to identify potential trouble spots in the agencies that could have a
detrimental effect on operations resulting in a risk to consumer health.

The policies and strategies to ensure accessibility to safe and clean drinking water supply and sanitary
facilities are outlined in the five-year Malaysia Plans, the most recent being the 8th (2001-2005). The plans
promote collaboration between relevant agencies in preventing and controlling contamination of raw water
sources used for consumption, and the continuous monitoring and surveillance of drinking water quality. It
also supports the adoption of cost effective technologies particularly in rural areas and the training of all staff
in the water supply sector.

There are several Acts that serve to protect water sources from contamination, the most important being the
Water Supply Enactment (1955) and the Environmental Quality Act (1974) and Regulations.

The Water Supply Enactment (1955) empowers the state water supply authorities to supply water to
domestic and commercial consumers. Where supply services have been privatised or incorporated, the Act
serves to set up a regulatory body to oversee operations of the supply company and ensure compliance with
current drinking water quality standards. However there is no legal power to enforce compliance or to initiate
corrective actions.

The Environmental Quality Act (1974) and associated Regulations empowers the DOE to take action to
control pollution of water sources and the Regulations specify limits for the discharge of sewage or other
industrial effluents into watercourses. For industries that are unable to comply there is a period of grace
allowed through the issue of a contravention licence. Licence fees for wastewater discharge are imposed
based on the type of industry and pollutant. In addition to this legislation there are other measures to control
contamination of water sources which include guidelines and codes of practice for specific industries and
environmentally relevant activities.

Water quality standards

The Ministry of Health established the National Drinking Water Quality Standards (NDWQS) in 1983, with
the most recent revision in 2000 due for circulation for use in 2002. The standards stipulate limits for
physical, chemical, microbiological and radiological parameters and compliance with these standards is
mandatory for all private water suppliers. Supporting documentation is available to ensure effective
implementation of the standards and include information on the National Programme for Drinking Water
Quality Surveillance, and the Manual of Drinking Water Quality Surveillance.

In addition to the NDWQS the DOE has developed Interim National Water Quality Standards (INWQS) that
classifies inland water quality into 5 classes: domestic water supply, fisheries and aquaculture, irrigation,
livestock, and recreation, each with its own set of biological, chemical and physical parameters.

Needs analysis
Although the NDWQSP has been operating since 1984 there are still weaknesses in the system. There are
insufficient numbers of trained staff to implement regular monitoring and surveillance, and the existing
program requires more coordination, particularly in rural areas.

Currently all power in governing the supply of drinking water resides with State authorities. The Federal
Ministry of Health does not have any jurisdiction over agreements between State governments and private
companies and lacks legislation to prosecute water suppliers who consistently fail to meet drinking water
quality standards. Current regulations prevent the use of unauthorised equipment which may cause
contamination of drinking water, but compliance with the standards needs to be included in any regulations,
particularly as the provision of drinking water is increasingly becoming privatised.

At present the drinking water quality standards serve only as guidelines and there is no legislative power to
enforce standards. This problem is compounded by the fragmented nature of responsibilities for water
resources and supply between State and Federal authorities, and cooperation between agencies in order to
deal with such failures, obtain supporting facts and figures, and to develop policies, is often slow and time-

Most of the sampling, monitoring and surveillance work is undertaken by Public Health Inspectors but this
requires continuous training due to the high turnover of staff and the Ministry of Health is supporting the
devolvement of this work to Public Health Assistants to address the lack of manpower. Water supply
agencies should be encouraged to become accredited under quality management system standards, ensuring
that analytical procedures are documented to guarantee consistent results, and that staff are suitably trained
to be able to conduct analyses of both samples and the resulting data.

Technical assistance and support is also needed in the development of standards for certain organic
pollutants that are found in developing countries, but are not defined in the WHO Guidelines for Drinking
Water Quality. Expert guidance is also needed on setting standards for the quality of raw water needed for a
variety of treatment technologies. Such guidance could be used to select the best water source and treatment
process to use in a given situation. Advice and support is also necessary to assist in the development of a
Drinking Water Quality Index to provide a national, standardised approach to the assessment of drinking
water quality.

There are also several areas in which the capacity of existing institutions can be strengthened. This includes
the improvement of analytical facilities to enable the analysis of certain chemicals and pesticides to screen
potential water sources, and allow decisions to be made on ongoing monitoring programmes.

The large amount of monitoring data that has already been accumulated needs sufficient processing power
available to enable statistical analyses to be made and the results interpreted into useful and timely
information to allow operational managers, and health officials to make effective, informed decisions. A
web-based application is being developed to make this information available to all agencies. Improved or
automated data input systems are also required, to release health inspectors for more valuable tasks, and the
development of capabilities in automated and remote monitoring of water resources would greatly assist the
effectiveness of programmes, and help to address a lack staff. Expertise in these areas may be sourced from
within agencies or from external consultants. The high turnover of staff also affects the operation and
maintenance of the distribution systems, where the lack of regular flushing has resulted in elevated levels of

Referenced documents
1. Dr. Ms Pillay, Ir. Tan Hoo, Keah Kwee Chu, Engineering Services Division, Ministry of Health,
“Country Report- Drinking Water Quality Surveillance and Safety in Malaysia” for the WHO
Workshop on Drinking Water Quality, Surveillance and Safety, 12 – 15 November 2001, Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia

2. UNICEF/WHO, “Country, Regional and Global Estimates on Water & Sanitation”, Joint
Monitoring Programme (JMP) for water supply and sanitation,

Appendix 1 - Map of Malaysia

Kota Baharu Kota Kinabulu
Kuala Terengganu Sandakan

Kuantan Tawau
Klang Bintulu
Melaka Sibu
Johor Bahru Kuching

Capital National Boundary

0 300km
Major Town/City State Boundary P Kingston 2006