Managing Water in Southern China

A series of droughts in China, including some earlier this year, has raised concerns that Hong Kong’s water supply might not be as secure as had been thought.

Drinking water has rarely been a concern in Hong Kong, where the supply has historically been plentiful and affordable. But a series of droughts in China, including some earlier this year, has raised concerns that Hong Kong’s water supply might not be as secure as had been thought.

Civic Exchange, a public policy research group based in Hong Kong, has released a report titled ”Liquid Assets,” highlighting water security and management in the Pearl River Basin and Hong Kong.

The report warns that South China’s supply of water – which comes from the Dongjiang, a major tributary of the Pearl River – is threatened by climate change and pollution. Additionally, there is growing competition from industries in the surrounding Guangdong wetlands.

Mike Kilburn, Civic Exchange’s environmental program manager, said that ”while China protects classic farmlands, the story of Guangdong is relentless development.”

”Ecologically, the delta is not in good shape,” Mr. Kilburn said.

The authors of the report said at a news conference that Hong Kong’s water prices were a significant part of the problem, as low prices encouraged consumption.

The International Water Association reports that Hong Kong’s water tariffs are among the lowest in the world, while its per capita consumption of water is among the highest.

According to Civic Exchange’s representatives, the most immediate way to manage the use of water resources is to raise the price, but they acknowledged that political issues might make raising rates difficult.

They also believe that Hong Kong and Macao should be brought in on the discussions relating to water management in South China.

Currently Hong Kong’s role is limited to ”water supplies management” – negotiating long-term fixed rates for water – rather than ”total water management,” which would look beyond the pricing issue at things like conservation, adaptation measures and preservation of South China’s wetlands.

”Hong Kong does not have a water policy,” said Christine Loh, a former Hong Kong legislator and the founder of Civic Exchange. ”What we have is a water department that looks at things like piping, cleaning and negotiating water prices with Guangdong, but this is a supply-led attitude.”

Ms. Loh said Hong Kong needed a demand-oriented water policy and total water management system that looked at broader factors to secure the long-term water supply. Factors include raising tariffs, increasing conservation measures, generating awareness campaigns and planning for alternative sources like desalination plants.

Source: International Herald Tribune, December 30, 2009

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