Green Finance Advisor of Friends of the Earth (HK)

Water stewardship is gaining traction in governments and among states. Water risk is among the significant ecological threats highlighted in the latest Ecological Threat Report 2023[1] with approximately two billion people in the world with no regular access to safe drinking water. Many of the top 10 risks over the next decade identified in the 2023 Global Risk Report of the World Economic Forum are highly connected with water.

Water has not been mindfully consumed by people and businesses. In general, water has been subsidized by government to ensure equity of access. But the subsidized pricing of water is one of the key issues leading to the waste of water. The problem of pricing of water has been alerted by many including the IMF[2] but little process has been made. Compounding with the impact of climate change and global warming (or global heating in the foreseeable future), the water crisis will only get worse with closer to half of the population living in area with high water street.

There are pressing needs to address the water crisis, which has to be tackled with other environmental challenges we are facing. Cooperation and partnership are needed among countries[3]. In Asia, the two most populated countries India and China are both having water threats and the economic implications due to the lack of water are substantial. The sharing of important water sources among countries has consistently involved geopolitics and thus some of the solution of water crisis requires diplomatic effort.

Hong Kong used to have water rationing in the very old days. But following the completion of water infrastructure and the secure of the water supply from Guangdong, we did not have water rationing since 1982. We have more than enough clean water supply and the water tariff is low. In fact, Hong Kong’s water charge is the lowest among the world’s major cities. But the status quo should be challenged.

Noticeably, Guangdong province has been encountering its own water challenges such as drought in 2022. Warmer climate is almost for certain making the future outlook of water supply in the Pearl River Delta region more complicated and less predictable. Other issues that the public may be less aware of including water leakage and water theft. All these issues together costed about one-third of loss of our water production. The Hong Kong government has been improving the public infrastructure to reduce water leakage and increase water catchment. This succeeded in bringing down the leakage rate of the government mains to 14% in 2022 from 25% in 2000. The government has set a target loss rate of less than 10% by 2030. On the other hand, the private sector has been slow in fixing the leakage problem.

Lack of awareness of the above issues and high water subsidies have led to excessive water use in Hong Kong. To dispel the illusion that we have unlimited water and practice responsible water use, we need to increase public awareness of climate change and water risks and reform water billing.

[1] Ecological Threat Report 2023, Institute of Economics & Peace, 1 November 2023

[2] The case for reforming the price of water, IMF, 16 March 2016

[3] Flagship UN report extolls win-win water partnerships to avert global crisis, United Nations, 21 March 2023