On World Water Day: what Singapore could teach Hong Kong about a secure future

The theme for World Water Day 2020 today, Water and Climate Change, highlights the close relationship between the two.
Worldwide, 785 million people are short of drinking water. The United Nations says global water use has been increasing at more than twice the rate of global population growth in the last century.
Water is a scarce resource worldwide due to climate change, pollution and population growth. If Hong Kong became unable to draw its water supply from Dongjiang for some reason, the city would immediately be plunged into crisis.
Visionary leaders would work to foresee worst-case scenarios and make strategic plans to deal with them should they eventuate. But there seem to be no signs of our government preparing plans for worst-case scenarios regarding water resilience, similar to those being deployed to combat the coronavirus epidemic.
Our government likes to compare our city with Singapore. Singapore has been using NEWater since 2003. NEWater is reclaimed water that meets the drinking water standards of the World Health Organisation and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
At the beginning, the water was used mainly by the industrial sector. Today it accounts for 40 per cent of Singapore’s total consumption, including drinking. The Singapore government aims to increase the use of NEWater to 55 per cent by 2060 as a way to reduce reliance on imported water.
Hong Kong has integrated the use of reclaimed water in new housing estates. But such water is used only to flush toilets. The city still relies heavily on water imported from the mainland, which accounts for up to 80 per cent of our water consumption.
Regarding water leakage, Singapore loses around 5 per cent of its water supply yearly, one of the lower rates among developed cities. While Hong Kong has improved a lot in this area, reducing the leak rate from over 25 per cent in 2000 to 15 per cent in 2018, it is clear that Hong Kong still wastes a lot of fresh water.
According to the Ombudsman’s report released in 2018, the volume of leaked water is enough to meet the needs of 2 million people for a year, and costs taxpayers HK$530 million.
The administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor must treat water shortage as a life-threatening issue similar to other serious health risks, like the current coronavirus pandemic.
While waiting for the government to act, we can do our part simply by taking a shorter shower, turning off the tap while rubbing hands with soap, and choosing food with a smaller water footprint. For instance, a kilo of beef requires over 15,000 litres of water to produce, while a kilo of potato requires only 287 litres. Going vegetarian helps to combat climate change and save water simultaneously. So act now!
Edwin Lau
Founder and Executive Director of The Green Earth
22 March 2020 SCMP