The Illusion of Plenty: Hong Kong's water's security, working towards regional water harmony

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Worldwide, the availability of freshwater is decreasing in response to rising population levels, urbanisation and increasing demand, with the impact of all being exacerbated by climate change. With limited water resources of its own and an equally limited capacity to store rainwater, Hong Kong relies on the PRD catchment for the majority of the water it consumes. Climate change and uncertainties concerning competing demands and supply within the PRD itself have increasingly raised questions as to Hong Kong’s vulnerability to water shortages and demonstrated the need for Hong Kong to better manage its own resources. Such concerns have largely grown out of the Hong Kong government’s lacklustre performance in developing a visionary and vigorous water management strategy that would ensure Hong Kong’s water security for the future. It has failed to manage its water supplies judiciously, instead taking more water from China than should otherwise be necessary. Perversely, the lack of innovation and aspiration in supply-side management has been nurtured by the steady supply of water from China and a water agreement that does little to encourage conservation. Hong Kong faces numerous challenges. Policy gaps exist that are, to some extent, the consequence of a complicated governance structure and multiple layers of authority. Underperformance in multiple areas has been persistently highlighted by the government’s own AC. 6 6. CONCLUSION – DISPELLING THE ILLUSION OF PLENTY The government’s determination to develop desalination, despite opposition from LegCo Members, expense, energy use and little proof of benefit, has taken considerable focus, time and money. The sporadic nature of its operation, i.e. during periods of drought, also means that the plant will be a last resort, only periodically offsetting a small portion of overall demand. Attempts at demand-side management have further had little effect on the high volumes of water consumed across the city. Meanwhile, the tariff system has remained unchanged for two decades and does little to recover the costs of supply, nor does it place adequate value on a precious resource. Ultimately, the government needs to take significant action to raise awareness and dispel Hong Kong’s illusion of plenty.

Perhaps most startling is the lack of attention the government’s TWM Strategy pays to what appears to be an increasing trend of water losses from its system. Whilst the TWM Strategy includes the R&R programme, it fails to account for losses from the inside service. Developing a more comprehensive and robust strategy could potentially save considerable volumes of water, equivalent to about one quarter of the volume projected to be supplied to Hong Kong’s consumers in 2030.

Steering towards a circular water system by focusing on reclaiming water and increasing rainwater harvesting, combined with loss reduction may reduce the quantity taken from the Dongjiang and move Hong Kong towards a more water-secure future.

In reviewing its TWM Strategy, it is hoped the government will consider such approaches ahead of desalination and in doing so, demonstrate its commitment towards sustainable development in harmony with the PRD.

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