【明報專訊】IN the next three years, the cost of Dongjiang water will continue to go up $200 million a year. The government has said it has no plan to raise water charges. Therefore, though Dongjiang water will cost Hong Kong more, citizens will not be charged more. On the face of it, the government is solicitous of citizens. However, as the money paid to the Guangdong authorities comes from the public purse, it is the taxpayer that will bear the cost. Because the central government looks after Hong Kong, we have no lack of water, and water is cheap here. Therefore, Hong Kong people tend to use a lot of water, and some even waste it. This is a big concern.
According to a report the International Water Association released in 2010, per capita water consumption in Hong Kong was as much as 220 litres a day, much higher than the world figure (about 170 litres a day). Hong Kong ranked tenth in the world. In 2008, the Water Supplies Department commissioned a consultancy to carry out a study. The experts came to a similar conclusion. According to them, one reason why Hong Kong people use too much water is that it is cheap here. A cubic metre of water is charged on average at about $4.1 in Hong Kong, but as much as $8 in Singapore. The experts therefore recommended that the government raise water charges.
The government has indeed done much to ensure Hong Kong people have no lack of water. Thanks to the central government, Hong Kong is supplied with Dongjiang water. Moreover, the government has set apart a piece of land in Tseung Kwan O for building a medium-sized seawater desalination plant. It will carry out a study and formulate a detailed plan in the next three years. The plant is expected to supply 50 million cubic metres a year, and its capacity could be boosted to 90 million cubic metres a year, more than 10% of Hong Kong's yearly water consumption.
Like Hong Kong, Singapore lacks water resources. It has to buy water from Malaysia. The current water supply treaty between Singapore and Malaysia expires in 2061. Singapore's ultimate aim is to ensure that Singaporeans will not lack water even if Malaysia stops providing the country with it in five decades. Water resources have everything to do with a country's survival. Therefore, the government of Singapore has formulated a long-term strategy. It has come up with many policy measures for finding water sources and for encouraging the efficient use of water. It has laid down many water-saving rules. That is why per capita water consumption in Singapore is 155 litres a day, lower than the world average (170 litres a day).
Nevertheless, Singapore would not rest on its laurels. Its government has continued to launch water-saving campaigns. It has, for example, introduced the 10% Challenge. It wants every Singaporean to use 10% less water a day so that per capita daily water consumption in the country will fall 15 litres to 140 litres.
Singapore's ways of managing its water resources seem rather drastic to outsiders. Thanks to the central government's help, Hong Kong need not worry about any water shortage. However, it is irresponsible to use water lavishly or wastefully. To encourage Hong Kong people to save water, the government should take a two-pronged approach. First, it should strictly adhere to the "user pays" principle and charge more where water consumption is unreasonable. Second, it should launch a long-term water-saving campaign. For example, it should make it a goal to bring per capita daily water consumption in the SAR down 10% or 15% in ten years.