Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia

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Enhancing Water Security for All

Clean water is crucial for human survival. Yet, as of 2019, 2.2 billion people still do not have access to safely managed water drinking services, according to WHO/UNICEF. In fact, one of the 17 Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) that were established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 has a target of ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitisation for all.

In Johor, Malaysia, a significant collaborative project by Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) is already underway to solve water quality and availability issues in the country’s southernmost state. Known as the Water Security Hub, the project is a five-year programme on water security and sustainability funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Global Challenges Research Fund that aims to tackle the greatest challenges in society. 

Sungai Johor is an important source of drinking water not only for the state of Johor but also for Singapore. The river, 123km in length, is home to a rich and diverse biodiversity, and many villagers, communities and townships are built near it. Some of the main economic activities that can be found within and around the river basin are agriculture activities like palm oil plantations and orchards, animal husbandry, fish farming and sand mining. In recent years, the water quality has deteriorated due to ammonia pollution from industries and improper waste disposal into the river. The Water Security Hub research project, aims to assist the government in better management of the river basin. In addition, NUMed has a dedicated microbiology and molecular biology laboratory to facilitate its future inclusion in other water/sustainability projects.

“In the next two to three years, I hope that we will be able to come up with the resources needed by the relevant stakeholders, including those who live in the river basin, to improve the current situation. We’ve worked very closely with these people and we look forward to exploring how we can address their concerns to make this a better place for everybody,” said Dr Michaela Goodson, Dean of Research and Project Leader from NUMed.

One important goal of the programme is to establish a river basin authority to oversee the management of the river basin, as well as empowering communities with knowledge to make decisions on water access, use and management. To understand the perception and water-related behaviour of the communities, a well-rounded questionnaire has also been developed.  

Other systematic operations, such as sampling activities of the river water, and the analysis and interpretation of data essential to research perspectives, are also being carried out. Meanwhile, the hydrology team carries out modelling processes to simulate daily hydrological characteristics for better management of water resources.

“Water security is extremely important for any nation. By working closely with the communities, getting them to take an active role and responsibility in safeguarding the water resource, as well as engaging with policymakers and developing an integrated management regime for Sungai Johor, we can tackle pollution and other challenges systematically and effectively. Our long-term vision is to achieve ecosystem recovery, improved governance and water use efficiency to ensure better quality of life for the people,” concluded Dr Goodson.

published on: 30 November 2020