Saturday, March 16, 2013

World's mounting water woes

Mar 16, 2013

WHEN water is always on tap, there is a risk of taking it for granted - especially after earlier shortage fears have receded, thanks to technology like that of Newater. But efforts to conserve this precious resource, through care for waterways and sensible consumption, should constantly remain a priority as water scarcity remains a challenge that affects everyone. Even developed countries are being strained by climate change, growing populations and ageing water infrastructure. The United States, for example, loses billions of litres of clean water daily through leaks in pipes. At the same time, water disputes have arisen among its states.

In assessing the current state of the globe, Worldwatch Institute posits a crucial question in the face of scarce natural resources: Is sustainability still possible? Indeed, there is good reason for concern about ecological decline, especially when the will to act remains weak across the globe.

At the 2011 World Water Week in Stockholm, a hopeful statement was issued to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro the following year. It called for a 20 per cent improvement each in areas like water efficiency in agriculture, water use efficiency in energy production, quantity of water reused and curbing of water pollution. But the Rio+20 summit ended on a whimper and the water can was once again kicked down the road.

As a fresh World Water Week is marked this month, with a number of events taking place today in Singapore, expectations might remain low, particularly after the dismal revelations in China of 6,000 dead pigs, possibly diseased, dumped into a river supplying tap water to Shanghai. Yet the issue is so critical that efforts to raise awareness on the world's growing scarcity will have to be redoubled.

Singapore has added reason to do so, seeing how it has turned water adversity to advantage over the decades. The Singapore model of "Four National Taps", progressively developed over 40 years, is now widely lauded. National water agency PUB deserves credit for the nation's robust water supply made up of local catchment water, purified reclaimed water (Newater), desalinated water and imported water. Thanks to these efforts, water is no longer such a source of existential angst among Singaporeans. Instead, water is a growing industry in Singapore, which is able to export its expertise.

But this success risks causing some to assume that water will always flow at the turn of a tap. Water conservation is not the PUB's job alone. Efforts will have to be kept up to get more Singaporeans, especially the young, to recognise the critical role they have to play in safeguarding every precious drop.

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