Integrated water regulation for SDG 6 – the Malaysian experience

Water is the core element to sustaining human life, needed not only for human consumption but also for food, energy, and industrial production, which eventually translates into growth and development. Usage of water faces competing demands from many different users and is potentially a source of conflict due to ever-increasing water scarcity globally. As such, it is imperative to adopt a holistic perspective for the regulation of water and for the achievement of SDGs, encompassing all users and uses and making sure that no one is left behind.

SDG 6 is about ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. This is an extremely crucial goal, which is part of the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development. Access to water and sanitation is closely interconnected with other key aspects such as human rights, poverty reduction, equality, peace, justice, and environmental protection. As such, the achievement of SDG 6 is central in the UN Agenda and can help to achieve many other SDGs. For example, achieving universal access to water is linked to SDG 5 on gender equality, SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production and SDG 13 on climate action.

The role of regulation in achieving SDG 6 is undeniably important. Good water governance through regulation is key to shaping informed decisions and implement the necessary measures needed to achieve SDG 6 via political, institutional, and administrative rules, frameworks, and processes. Regulation can also pave the way for coordination between sectors to overcome a siloed approach towards water and sanitation management.

For example, many developing countries, including Malaysia, face multiple challenges in prioritising water allocations due to needing to balance economic development with health and environmental goals. Fragmented institutional arrangements at multiple layers of the government with differing plans can result in contradictory or duplicate policies; a holistic and integrated approach to regulation can solve these issues and benefit many different sectors.

In Malaysia, the 2007 water services industry reform included the amendments to the Federal Constitution, the enactment of the Water Services Industry Act 2006 and of the National Water Services Commission Act 2006, which has successfully transferred water services regulation powers to the Federal Government. The principal objective of this reform was to make the water industry more sustainable through full-cost recovery.

Clearly, combining the sustainable water services industry through full cost-recovery, increasing water use efficiency, encouraging new ways of water harvesting or exploring alternative sources, as well as focusing on water recycling and reuse technologies, is indeed the ideal scenario. However, the shift towards a more integrated water management system as specified in SDG 6 is not an easy task. The mandate for “universal”, “equitable” and “adequate” access and sustainable supply of water in SDG 6 demands for long-term planning and collective action between diverse and interdependent stakeholders. This is why the role of regulation and the targets of the SDGs come hand in hand, as both add value to each other.

It is in countries like Malaysia, where water governance and regulation are still evolving, that the implementation of SDG 6 has added value, creates opportunities, and has paved the way to achieving an ideal, integrated water management system. Implementation efforts should be progressively scaled up through regulations, to institutionalise a comprehensive policy-making mechanism for water regulation, alongside economic, health and environmental objectives. Regulation and regulators can hold onto the global goals to shape policies, whilst the advancement and progress on the SDG agenda is achieved through local regulatory frameworks. Global policies and local regulations are mutually dependent on one another. They are what will ultimately allow us to succeed in meeting the 2030 targets.

Join the Closing Plenary of the 6th International Water Regulators Forum (IWRF) happening on 8 July at 14:40 GMT+1 (London time). The Forum, hosted by IWA, is a high level gathering for global regulators. The closing plenary is open to all and will include a keynote speech from IWA’s President, water policy pitches, a summary of the key messages of the 6th IWRF and more. To register, please click here.

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