Water Wise: NRW reduction strategies in Southeast Asia

NRW reduction strategies in Southeast Asia

Although most parts of Southeast Asia have abundant water resources, the amount of usable water is becoming limited due to excessive leakages and contamination in the

water distribution system. In most Southeast Asian countries, the level of non-revenue water (NRW) is as high as 30-40 per cent of the water supply. The challenges faced by the majority of cities in this region are quite similar. There are large proportions of water loss in the distribution network, along with intermittent supply, poor asset management, low tariffs, excessive groundwater withdrawal, deterioration of water quality, lack of capacity in water utilities, and environmental and pollution problems.

For example, in the Philippines, Maynilad Water Services reports losses of about 800 million litres of water per day. Meanwhile, Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital and largest city, loses about 39 per cent of its total water supply due to corroded and obsolete pipes. These large amounts of NRW affect water supply to consumers and result in revenue losses for service providers. Combined with the growing water shortage, this makes NRW reduction not just desirable but necessary. Several cities have taken steps in this direction but have recorded slow progress.

The measures to reduce losses and increase efficiency include the establishment of district metered areas (DMAs) to manage water distribution networks, pipeline repair/replacement to plug leakages and replace obsolete pipes, detailed mapping of assets and underground utilities, and deployment of leakage control technologies. Singapore, Manila, Bangkok, Penang and Kuala Lumpur are among the cities taking these actions.

Cities with a high NRW component have also partnered with leading water utilities to adopt some of their best practices. In Thailand, the Provincial Waterworks Authority (PWA) has paired up with Malaysia’s Ranhill Utilities Berhad to share advanced technologies for reducing water losses and NRW. Similarly, in March 2014, the Yangon City Development Committee, Myanmar, signed an MoU with the Manila Water Company (MWC) and Mitsubishi Corporation to work on an NRW reduction project.

Smart Utilities reviews the NRW reduction measures of some utilities in the region…


Singapore’s national water agency, the Public Utilities Board (PUB),  has been implementing advanced technology solutions for NRW reduction.  Despite its small geographical area and limited freshwater resources, Singapore has developed a robust water supply network to provide piped water access to all residents. Besides augmenting water availability through alternative resources, PUB has been active in plugging system inefficiencies to ensure the judicious use of water.

The NRW component in Singapore’s water supply is only 5 per cent, among the lowest in the world. Over the past decade or so, PUB has invested over S$310 million in research and development activities, with a notable initiative being its NRW reduction and leakage control programme. About 80 per cent of its total expenditure is on maintaining its water distribution network. It uses an integrated network management system that combines high quality with efficient management; active leakage controls; accurate metering practices; strict legislation against illegal water siphoning; and customer relationship management. To improve the performance of its transmission and distribution network, PUB has implemented a programme to replace all unlined cast iron pipelines and galvanised iron connecting pipes with cement mortar-lined ductile iron pipelines and stainless steel or copper connecting pipes.

In addition, PUB runs a one-stop call centre for complaints about leakages, water wastage, faulty meters and other issues. This is equipped with modern data recording and retrieval systems to track performance and ensure timely complaint redressal. Going forward, it is looking to set up a mobile application to ensure immediate and prompt feedback on issues and problems.


The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA) and PWA, Thailand’s main water agencies, have also been implementing innovative measures to reduce NRW.

In 2005, MWA, which provides piped drinking water to Bangkok and its provinces, introduced a real-time monitoring and management system to reduce water losses resulting from pipe and equipment damage and inaccurate water meters. It is using Yokogawa’s STARDOM FCJ controllers, along with pressure transmitters, magnetic flow meters and ultrasonic flow meters, to enable data collection from widely dispersed block stations and leakage monitoring using the leakage check algorithm. MWA also uses ABB’s water leakage management software to determine water loss levels in DMAs across the Greater Bangkok area. This enables it to monitor flow and pressure data at 1,000 measuring points and transmit the same to a control centre. It also helps track leakages at joints and fittings as well as large-scale bursts. These solutions have helped MWA reduce its NRW from 40 per cent in 2000 to 25 per cent in 2015.

PWA, which serves provinces outside Bangkok, has also undertaken initiatives to improve operational efficiencies, including the establishment of small DMAs within its distribution network. It regularly undertakes pipe and meter repairs as well. In 2006, the authority entered into a partnership with Malaysia’s Ranhill Utilities Berhad for obtaining technical support for designing and managing DMAs, conducting water audits, preparing a water balance, accurately collecting DMA data and verifying meter accuracy.


The Malaysian government has introduced several initiatives for controlling physical losses and improving the quality of water supply. The National Water Services Commission, the water and sanitation regulator, has constituted a special task force to recommend a strategy for NRW reduction. The government has also incorporated a water resource management strategy into its five-year development plans. However, the NRW component of Malaysia’s total water supply remains high at 36.4 per cent.

Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang (PBAPP) and Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (SYABAS), water distributors in Malaysia, have undertaken some noteworthy initiatives for reducing system losses. PBAPP, a private operator in Penang, has invested in the rehabilitation of the pipeline system and the replacement of faulty meters. It has also adopted global best practices to curb leakages. In 2009, PBAPP entered into a partnership with Indonesia’s PDAM Tirta Musi to reduce leakages and improve service delivery. Under this, hydraulic models for pilot DMAs and geographic information systems (GIS) were developed to facilitate the analysis and monitoring of leakages.

In March 2014, PBAPP, the Tokyo Suido Services Corporation and the Japan International Cooperation Agency signed the minutes of the meeting for an NRW reduction technology training and capacity building project. Under it, PBAPP employees will receive technical training in leak detection and other NRW reduction technologies.

SYABAS, a private operator in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, has introduced i20’s pressure management system across its water distribution network to monitor and reduce leakages. The network is monitored and managed by establishing DMAs.

The Philippines

In Metro Manila, the most populous metropolitan area in the Philippines, Maynilad Water Services and MWC have undertaken several initiatives to reduce NRW. Maynilad, a private operator in the west zone, is implementing one of Asia’s largest NRW reduction programmes. It successfully brought down the level of NRW in the total water supply from 41 per cent in 2012 to 35.4 per cent by the end of 2013, translating into a water volume recovery of over 143 million gallons per day.

In 2009, Maynilad began establishing DMAs in the west zone to curb the high volume of water losses due to unplugged leakages, deteriorated pipelines and illegal connections. By December 2013, it had established 1,372 DMAs with an average NRW level of 33 per cent. The utility also regularly repairs leakages, replaces old meters and lays new pipelines.

To monitor its underground pipelines, Maynilad adopted the Sahara Leak Detection System in 2010. This makes use of a sensor with audio and video capability, which is inserted into the primary pipeline. Maynilad has registered a significant improvement in its leak detection operations using advanced technologies like the AquaScan Trunk Main leak noise correlator, JD7 LDS2010 “Investigator” CCTV leak noise correlator, and Bentley’s WaterGEMS Technology.

MWC has introduced a range of innovative technologies to reduce NRW in its water supply. To improve efficiency and reduce losses, it introduced i20’s advanced pressure management pump control system at pumping stations that serve large portions of the city. This has enabled MWC to reduce energy consumption and leakages. It has also developed an enterprise GIS to ensure real-time access to all geographic information, mapping all water meters and service pipes. The company has also interfaced its GIS with DMA management to monitor NRW and the pressure level at DMAs. These initiatives have helped it reduce NRW from 12 per cent in 2012 to 11 per cent by 2015.


Rapid population growth in Southeast Asia, along with accelerated urbanisation and industrialisation, has put tremendous pressure on the region’s depleting freshwater resources. This is compounded by the poor state of infrastructure, low metering levels, and high levels of leakage and theft. Various measures are being taken to lower NRW levels, but progress is slow. Barring a few water utilities in Singapore, Manila and Penang that have managed to reduce losses by engaging private companies, most utilities lack the capacity and finances to introduce advanced technologies.

On the bright side, most governments are recognising the importance of innovative NRW reduction strategies and beginning to incorporate them in city development plans. They are leveraging overseas assistance by forming partnerships with multilateral agencies and technology providers.

Going forward, more concrete steps are required for introducing leakage control technologies, undertaking the repair and maintenance of non-functional meters, and replacing obsolete and faulty pipeline infrastructure. A piped water supply network with operational meters should be developed to reduce losses incurred during water distribution. Most importantly, capacity building of water utilities and effective implementation of volumetric tariffs are crucial for sustainable NRW management.