Hong Kong and Other Big Cities in China Face the Real Possibility of Running Out of Water

The Dongjiang river supplies 70% to 80% of the city’s water. (Photo: Getty)
The Dongjiang river supplies 70% to 80% of the city’s water. (Photo: Getty)

If Hong Kong and water had a relationship status on Facebook, it would be: “It’s complicated.”

On the one hand, Hong Kong has been progressive and forward-thinking with water — it was the first city in the world to use seawater for toilet flushing and one of the earliest adopters of seawater desalination. On the other hand, water experts are now sounding the alarm that Hong Kong is at great risk of running very low on water in the future. Hong Kong’s reliance on imported water leaves it vulnerable: 70% to 80% of the city’s water comes from the Dongjiang river in the Guangdong province of China. And that early desalination plant? It was dismantled in 1992.

The Dongjiang is quite the popular kid on the block — five major cities surrounding it also rely on it for their water, and in 2010 those cities approached or exceeded their allotments. A Civic Exchange report on Hong Kong’s water management system says this foreshadows “a future in which demand will exceed supply” and an increase in competition for water among the cities. HK is not an isolated instance. Water shortages are a rising source of conflict between cities in Brazil, Ethiopia, Jordan, India and the United States. Hong Kong is a harbinger of how other modern cities will find themselves struggling to meet water demands.

This year, the Hong Kong government is renegotiating their water allocation agreement, and prices are expected to rise. Also rising? The city’s population. Hong Kong’s population is predicted to increase by about 1.5 million people by 2041, reaching 8.5 million. There’s also population growth expected in the cities sharing the Dongjiang’s water, and the reality of climate change adds to the pressures facing Hong Kong’s water management.

The people of Hong Kong love using water. China Water Risk reports the city uses more water per capita than Paris, London, Singapore and Melbourne. Part of the reason there is so much water consumption in the city may be the pricing structure. Each resident consumes about 220 liters per day, at a cost equal to that of a cup of coffee, reveals Frederick Lee Yok-shiu, an associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, freshwater is heavily subsidized by the government, and the seawater used for flushing is free. The city’s water prices have been frozen since 1995, which means that although the price the government pays (and therefore what taxpayers pay) can rise, residents won’t notice a cost increase tied to their personal usage. To put it into context, New Yorkers pay seven times more than Hong Kongers for their water use.

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SOURCE: Lorena O’Neil, Ozy.com
via USA Today

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