Hong Kong’s frozen water tariffs are damaging water conservation efforts. Will the nation be able to follow Singapore’s example in reducing water wastage?

The 30 per cent bump in water pricing that will be spread over two years certainly did not endear Singaporean leaders to the populace, but as water scarcity begins to threaten the region, water experts are beseeching Hong Kong as well as other Asian countries to mimic the island nation’s approach.

Singapore’s NEWater – water recycled from the country’s sewage structure – and two desalination plants were established over the past few decades as substitute sources of water in order to safeguard itself against Malaysia’s political dealings using its water supply. Currently, this can reach about 65 per cent of the daily of 1.6-billion-litre demand, its water agency, PUB, said. The price boost will go into new NEWater and desalination plants as well as additional water infrastructure that is predicted to, by 2060, likely accommodate 85 per cent of demand.

Water experts say that a hike in water tariffs can reduce water wastage notably, especially if the pricing structure is judiciously fine-tuned.

“We do need to apply water tariffs to disincenvitise water wastage,” a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) spokeswoman said. “In general, appropriately designed fiscal instruments and water pricing principles can create incentives for more efficient water use by reflecting the full costs of water.”

There is proof all around the world that water tariffs “help cut waste, increase efficiency and help to cultivate water resilience,” Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and author of the book China’s Water Crisis, confirmed.

However, experts have also warned bureaucracies in developing countries to avoid injuring and outraging vulnerable groups. In Singapore, middle- and lower-income households will be eligible to obtain vouchers to compensate for the rise in water prices.

“In all cities, but particularly in cities like Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, we need to ensure that water tariffs do not reduce access by the poor to clean water,” the spokeswoman for the UNEP continued.

The Lion City’s initiative to disincentivise water wastage arrives among growing worries concerning Asia’s freshwater supply. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) advised that the region’s population growth and economic development might give rise to “serious water shortages” by 2050, and one billion more people than today would be “water stressed.”

Industry professionals have pinpointed Hong Kong as one of the thirstiest major cities in Asia that needs necessary and immediate water management reforms.

Director of the water governance research programme at Hong Kong University Frederick Lee Yok-Shiu stated that water conservation efforts have been impaired by the freeze in tariff rates for the past twenty years “because of politics.”

“On average, taxpayers are subsidising half of each household’s water bill. There is no economic incentive for users to conserve water,” Lee explained to the South China Morning Post. “Asking each household to pay for the full cost of water use will help remind them of the actually value of freshwater.”

An estimated 80 per cent of Hong Kong’s fresh water comes from Guangdong’s Dongjiang River. Nevertheless, according to Lee, it is this cross-border agreement that has given rise to the “perception that the city enjoys an abundant supply of fresh water.” This is a “misplaced belief”, according to Lee, as climate change continues to disturb the water supply in China’s southern region and competition rises as a result.

Bumping up water tariffs in Hong Kong will not be easy. “It’s not easy to get [popular support] for water tariff increases.” Ma exhorted.

Source: South China Morning Post