Editor’s pickUrban drought in Asia: How can it be fended off?

14-03-2017

As Asia continues to urbanize at a mass-scale at a rapid pace, water stress has started to become a colossal danger in Asian metropolises. If nothing is done soon, the cities and urban population found on the continent will be short of water in a scant few years.

Presently, 16 of the world’s 37 mega-cities are situated in Asia, and there is the possibility of the number growing to 22 by 2030. The surfacing of mega-urban locations containing rural areas, villages, towns, and cities is depositing added stress on water availability on a part of the world already experiencing water scarcity.

This situation can only deteriorate as the rapid urbanisation drives demand for more water even as climate change rocks the earth and droughts and floods increase in frequency and make the precious resource less accessible.

Water security in urbanized areas can be boosted though an improved use of current water stocks before plans are drawn up to up the supply of water. Water services and utilities can formulate innovative approaches to reduce water leakage; and carry out and enforce pricing systems to promote judicious use of water. Public water saving objectives can be designated and they can inspire young people to adjust their lifestyle and save water.

Fortunately, some metropolises are responding and rising to the challenge, possibly contributing ideas for other parts of the continent short of water to emulate on how to raise awareness on how to go about conserving water and also to handle the rising demand for it.

Awareness programmes and public education can raise national knowledge of the lengthy hydrological cycle water goes through before adequate for consumption and why more effort is needed to conserve it.

In Singapore, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) imposes tariffs charged depending on the water consumption. But the cost encompasses the entire production process from the treatment of raw water to the accumulation of rainwater, and finally, the circulation of the treated consumable water. The Water Conservation Tax stands at 30 per cent, charging the water based on the value of its deficiency and developing a consciousness for water conservation. Consequently, the Singaporean population now consumes 151 litres of water per day compared to 165 litres in 2003.

Similarly, Phnom Penh’s Water Supply Authority has successfully revised its water tariff over a period of time, creating three categories of tariffs for commercial, domestic and government use. The tariffs would be raised progressively with each customer’s water utilization.

Malaysia has escalated its efforts to establish water-sensitive components in the school curriculum. The National Water Service and Ministry of Education have allied with a private firm to instruct pupils in careful management and use of water resources.

The levels of development range across the Asian continent, and the challenges facing these cities vary as a result; a campaign that may have suited Malaysia may not have worked in Singapore. However, nations can adopt the solutions that have worked for others. The alternative, unfortunately, is to face the looming water crisis that will devastate Asia’s urban poor.