Sanitation In Malaysia
Malaysia is home to a diverse population of more than 32 million people. Water safety and sanitation in Malaysia has greatly improved over the years, but more action is required to secure access to safe water and sanitation for all. The World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WHO/UNICEF JMP) has a goal to “leave no one behind” in the plan for sustainable development by 2030. Here are nine facts about sanitation in Malaysia.

9 Facts About Sanitation in Malaysia

  1. Basic sanitation access is now near-universal. The U.N.-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS) conducted in 2016/2017 reported that 100% of the urban population and 99% of the rural population is using at least basic sanitation services. In 2000, 98% of the urban population and 94% of the rural population had access to basic sanitation according to a study by the WHO/UNICEF JMP.

  2. Investing in water and sanitation has benefited economic development and vice versa. The Malaysian government has prioritized the sanitation sector, using a top-down approach since Malaysia’s independence in 1957. Growth in tourism led to improvements in sewer infrastructure driven by this factor’s ability to spur economic development. Since 2010, Malaysia’s economy has been growing at about 5.4% annually. The World Bank expects Malaysia to become a high-income economy by 2024. The prospect of economic growth motivated improvements in sanitation, and development has helped make further investments financially possible.

  3. Urbanization and industrialization strain conditions. It is predicted that 80% of the overall population in Malaysia will live in urban cities by 2030. While these changes are benefiting economic development, the increases in urbanization and industrialization are increasing the demand for water resources. These elements are causing tensions, while simultaneously increasing the rate of water pollution. The sanitation infrastructure that originally helped Malaysia’s economic growth is now struggling to manage the increased capacity.

  4. Changing weather patterns pose a challenge. Malaysia is experiencing increased flooding problems which cause higher rates of sediment that are difficult to manage. Workers can build dams to help the flooding issue, but dams obstruct the natural environment and often force the relocation of already vulnerable populations. The World Water Vision project is working to promote clean water with a focus on the quality of life and the environment necessary to confront these intertwined issues.

  5. Institutional and legal issues are hindering progress. There is no single agency in Malaysia responsible for the holistic planning and management of water. The National Water Resources Council is one entity that promotes effective water management. Current institutional bounds are also causing a lack of regulation for sanitation and drinking water programs and policies, especially for rural areas.

  6. Discrimination affects access to safe sanitation and clean water. A 2018 report from the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, Léo Heller, emphasized the pattern of discrimination in those excluded from safe sanitation access. People who are undocumented, stateless or gender nonconforming are particularly affected. Importantly, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was not ratified by the Malaysian government, which is discouraging to progress on this pertinent issue.

  7. Indigenous communities suffer from a lack of sanitation and clean water services. Improved drinking water infrastructure and policy are especially lacking in indigenous communities. The Orang Asli, the indigenous population in Malaysia, make up 0.7% of the population in Peninsular Malaysia. However, this group makes up 60% of the population in East Malaysia. This demographic collects its water directly from rivers and streams, but they also use these rivers in place of toilets. Heller reported that many of the water treatment facilities that do exist are not working and many are too difficult to maintain without proper training, which the Orang Asli lack.

  8. The Global Peace Foundation is improving conditions for the Orang Asli. The Communities Unite for Purewater (CUP) initiative, a joint effort between the Orang Asli and the Global Peace Foundation, is working to install water filters and educate the community about water, sanitation and hygiene. With the new filters, women no longer have to travel as far to collect water. This effort is also a great example of increased community engagement in policy. CUP has benefited more than 3,000 villagers who struggled to have access to safe water and sanitation due to their remote locations.

  9. Vulnerable populations are not adequately addressed in policymaking. Heller stated in his report that average figures are not always a good measure of conditions. Regarding sanitation in Malaysia, he says “We need to look at the marginalized and special groups. Usually, they are hidden in the average numbers.” There is a need to improve disaggregated data on water and sanitation services to better understand and target the lack of access to vulnerable communities. Additionally, targeted policies need to improve access for indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups. Refugees and undocumented peoples need the same right to safe sanitation as citizens.

Overall, access to basic sanitation in Malaysia is almost universal. The country now needs to handle issues of discrimination and inequity of access to these services, especially among vulnerable populations.

Katie Gagnon
Photo: Flickr