Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hong Kong's Lackadaisical Approach to Water

In the 1960s, people had to make their water supply last four days at a time
The Hong Kong government doesn't seem to care about its residents wasting water because it gets 80 percent of it cheaply from across the border via the Dongjiang River.

However, environmental groups and think tanks have been repeating their chorus that people should be paying the true cost of water so that they will think twice when they turn on the tap.

Civic Exchange released its latest report called The Illusion of Plenty, saying that water tariffs need to be raised to cope with a HK$1.35 billion revenue loss, as one-third of the city's water is being wasted.

One-third! And HK$1.35 BILLION.

Today 80 percent of our freshwater comes from China
Dr Frederick Lee Yok-shiu, associate professor in the geography department at the University of Hong Kong, said a typical family of three in the city should be paying more than double their current water bill. He estimated their monthly fee of HK$94 should be raised to HK$194.

While the price of water has increased, Lee says for political reasons the tariffs have been frozen, and so Hong Kong people have this illusion that water is plentiful -- and cheap.

As a result, Hong Kong has one of the world's highest rates of per-capita water usage, and the rates have been steadily increasing since 1998. The city's annual consumption in 2015 reached 1.25 billion cubic metres -- the equivalent to 5.5 billion full bathtubs -- about 21 percent higher than the global average.

While Civic Exchange chairman Evan Auyang says the water tariff system should reflect the true cost of fresh water, he also cautions that reforms should not impact low-income families' access to fresh water.

I'm not saying we should raise the cost of water for everyone," he said. "But for certain private companies that are using it in very large quantities, you should charge them more."

That would include places like restaurants, cafes, and laundry shops. The government needs to do more to really get people to be more aware of their water usage. In the office washroom and the gym I observe how people use water and it's shocking how they leave taps running, or take very long showers, when five minutes will do.

Raising water prices would at least help kick start people's perceptions about water and treat it more as a precious commodity. The government also needs to be on top of its water system, as the Water Supplies Department took up to two years to address leaking pipes in 2015.

And although the government started a campaign in 2014 to get people to save 10 litres of water a day, Civic Exchange estimated that even if the campaign reached its target, it would only save 2.6 percent of freshwater consumption.

My parents' generation remember having to take baths in a large bucket, and using the leftover water to wash rice to wash the dishes, as the starch removed oil from bowls and plates.

They also remember when water shortages were common place in the 1960s where they had to save enough water to last four days. Imagine the outrage if that happened now?

Politically and socially more needs to be done. We cannot afford to waste water anymore.

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