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A National Key Priority Area (NKPA) on Water

Academy of Sciences Malaysia has prepared an advisory report entitled “A National Key Priority Area on Water” which advocates a paradigm shift in the way Malaysia manages its water assets.

The report, prepared by a working group led by Dr. Low Kwai Sim FASc, suggests that the Government to promote water as part of our National Key Priority Areas (NKPA) and to give credence to water and enable strong scientific and technological contributions from the scientific and industrial community towards a sustainable water future and water economy.

Water underlies all twelve National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) to varying degrees and scale. The agriculture sector (accounting for at least 70% of total withdrawal) and the energy sector are heavy users of water. In 2009, the Environmental Goods and Services (EGS) sector (including water, air and waste management, renewable energy, monitoring, analysis and assessment) had an estimated revenue of RM 7 billion (1.38% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product), employing an estimated 29,700 workers in 2,700 private companies alone.

However, water is only subsumed as a “Key Support Utility”. This is perhaps because the valuation of water based on GDP/GNI is not an accurate reflection of the true value of water.

Water, food and energy security significantly underline our economy and livelihood. In the context of sustainable development, the trade-offs between water, food & energy production and utilisation are so great that on the international front, the Water-Food-Energy (WFE) Nexus approach is increasingly adopted to solve resource-related issues. If Malaysia could recognise energy and agriculture in the WFE Nexus as NKEAs, why not water?

Although Malaysia has a high annual rainfall of at least 2,000mm, we have had to endure a water crisis in Klang Valley last year, which not only created hardship to the people but also resulted in business losses amounting to millions(New straits Times, 2014). As such, there is a need for us to look into ways to safeguard our water resources.

Globally, the water sector generates a lot of investments especially in managing water resources, water supply and wastewater treatment for various uses. The global water industry market was estimated to be worth USD$360 billion in 2010, with an annual growth rate between 4% and 5%. The private sector’s stake alone is worth USD$229 billion, making it an attractive sector for investors. Furthermore, there are many segments in the water industry (Figure 2) that could lead to the creation of job opportunities.

The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) was launched in 2010 with the objective of transforming Malaysia into a high income nation by 2020. At the “heart” of the ETP is the twelve National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs), identified through a series of “high-powered” workshops organised by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) that has great potential to drive the Malaysian economy. The Entry Point Projects (EPPs) within each of the NKEAs are led by the private sector with the government acting as a facilitator. Aside from increasing our current gross national income (GNI) per capita to US$15,000 by 2020, the NKEAs also look into creating more job opportunities (3.3 million new jobs by 2020) in Malaysia through the EPPs.