1. Overview and key points
Malaysia has been recognised to have adopted a good sanitation model through the use legislative reforms and implementation models. A firm set of guidelines along with clear knowledge on the role played by every stakeholder, especially that of developers whose responsibility it is to construct their own wastewater treatment, enabled an increase in sanitation coverage throughout Malaysia through appropriately coordinated water, sewerage and septage management services.
High rates of urbanization throughout Asia have put water and sanitation services under severe pressure in urban centres. Although it must be recognised that access to improved water supply has reached 92-95% for urban areas in South and South East Asia, this increase has consequently led to upgraded forms of sanitation facilities such as water flushed toilets, resulting in an increase in the volume of wastewater produced. Prior to 1993, it was the Malaysian local government’s responsibility to provide a sewerage service to the country’s population. These local authorities however lacked the knowledge and resources to provide effective sanitation infrastructure. The situation was thus of great distress with only 5% of households disposing of sewerage connections.
3. Project planning and design
In order to tackle this problem, a number of sewerage studies in order to determine demand and capacity on a 30-year planning horizon. Based on this a three stage strategy was drawn up:
- Locate and rehabilitate old sewerage treatment plans and develop the plants septage collection capacity.
- Use available oxidation ponds as interim measures for septage disposal when identifying and constructing trenching sites per Department of Environment (DOE) guidelines.
- Build centralized and mechanized sewage and septage treatment facilities for more densely populated areas.
In addition to working on the country’s infrastructure, the development of a database of households with septic tanks was planned in order to schedule desludging by geographical area.
Simultaneously with these activities, promotion campaigns were organized using radio jingles, television and newspaper ads. The importance of desludging was communicated in school programs as well as trainings in order to encourage the removal of sludge from septic tank facilities.
4. Technology option
Following the Sewerage Services Act (SSA), owners of septic tanks were made to ensure adequate access to their infrastructure in order to facilitate maintenance and desludging. For the development of septic tanks, a guideline was provided for developers which stated when to use septic tanks, how to design them as well as pointers on the maintenance of these tanks. The technical specifications for proper septic tank design including dimensions, sizing and compartmentalization were derived from ‘The Code of Practice for Design and Installation of Sewerage Systems’.
5. Institutional and management arrangements
The incapacity of local government to provide for adequate sanitation led to the nationalization of the sewerage service. All wastewater assets were transferred to the federal government. Service then began being offered through a single private concessionaire – Indah Water Konsortium (IWK). This company therefore was entrusted the task of developing, operating and maintaining services. It was in charge of conducting the necessary pre-implementation surveys with users and contracting private desludging and sewerage services operators to provide on the ground services. Private developers consequently were to first consult IWK prior to any new property development regarding the type of sanitation and treatment system they should construct either individually or as a shared network with nearby or other planned developments. Users on the other hand were asked to contribute to monthly wastewater fees.
6. Financing arrangements
In order for IWK to cover its capital and operating costs, the federal government issued a strong financial subsidy towards this project. In addition to this, under the Water Services Industry Act (WSIA) – that which consolidates, private developers were required to finance the building of their own facilities such as septic tanks, sewerage networks and sewage treatment plants on site. Households participating in the regular desludging program committed to pay a semi-annual wastewater bill to be paid at the door for an on demand services or through monthly bills for scheduled services. These tariffs contribute towards 20% of the operational costs of the sewrage system, the remainder being subsidized by the Ministry of Finance.
For those who violate the maintenance and desludging requirements a fine was imposed. This was also the case with anyone engaging in activities opposing those set out in WSIA. These included the construction, alteration and disconnection of septic tanks without approval from SPAN (Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara) a commission created in order to manage the newly combined sector.
It is thought for the future that SPAN will provide two funds – The water Industry Fund as well as the Sewerage Capital Contribution Fund, the latter of which aims to supplement the capital funds needed to support the development of sewerage assets and implement the National Sewerage Development Plan – derived from developer’s connection fees.
7. Project outcomes and impacts
Between 1993–2008, IWK built sewers, developed desludging services and constructed septage and wastewater treatment facilities. Consequently, in 2006, 94% of Malaysia had access to improved sanitation, with 80-90% of the population in cities paying their monthly bills and complying with scheduled desludging.
Sewerage connections increased from 5% in 1993 to 73% in 2005. As for the remaining households connected to septic tanks, 50% of these participate in scheduled desludging. This is in compliance with federal law which states that tanks are to desludged every 3 years.
Information and awareness campaigns have helped people understand the value of wastewater treatment as well as accept to contribute towards desludging and wastewater fees. Despite this, as of 2009, the wastewater tariffs covered only 20% of operational costs, making use of subsidies by the Ministry of Finance in order to cover the remaining costs.
8. Overall sustainability of system
National policy requires real estate developers to construct adequate wastewater infrastructure to serve the resident population. This has resulted in 70-80% of the country’s wastewater infrastructure to be constructed by the private sector, reducing IWKs capital costs as well as the federal government’s strong financial subsidy for IWKs capital and operating costs. In addition to this, national policy mandates scheduled desludging. This ensures appropriate functioning of septic tanks, leading to a reduction in negative health and environmental impacts. A use for horticulture fertilization was was also found for the destabilized sludge from the treatment plant reducing waste to a minimum.
Guidelines for all these practices and procedures were drawn up for developers and service providers in order to standardise the service. Training was also mandatory for all staff and contractors in order to ensure that the service provided is up to the required standard. When contracting this service, customers were also given flexibility to pay their wastewater bill on a monthly basis or alternatively on demand via a on the door payment. This level of professionalism as well as the ease given for payments encouraged residents to take on board this project in a positive manner.
9. Lessons learned / Recommendations
Technology adapted to local context
The technology assigned for the sewerage service in Malaysia seemed to adapt exceptionally well to what the public demanded and was willing to pay following a willingness to pay (WTP) survey. This contributed to the widespread adoption of the sewerage services within households.
Economies of scale
By uniting both the water and sewerage services under one policy as well as one implementer, economies of scale were maximised thereby reducing overall costs of the project.
Cost recovery to be improved.
The cost recovery of this program needs to be improved in order to make septage collection and treatment profitable or at least a break even business, since it was calculated that tariffs only covered 20% of full operating costs. This increased contribution could be achieved through a stronger public awareness and education campaign in order to influence customers on the continual support required for the maintenance of the sewerage system in order for it to operate effectively.
It is recommended that the federal subsidy directed towards sewerage services in Malaysia be sourced from taxes on wastewater fees in order to encourage households to conserve water as well as to hold service providers accountable.
Local government involvement
It was seen that once local governments were eased of the burden of providing wastewater and sanitation facilities to people, this had an effect on their willingness to participate and support IWKs wastewater initiatives. Thus, a certain level of involvement by all stakeholders is required when designing, implementing and maintaining any sanitation system in order to safeguard sustainability.