Lose Less, Reuse More, Is Key to Solving Asia's Water Crisis - ADB Conference

News Release | 14 October 2010

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - If Asia's fast growing cities have to drive its fabled economic growth, they must curb water losses drastically, and adopt best-in-class water treatment and distribution systems, say new studies released at a conference here today.

The studies were tabled at the Water: Crisis and Choices - ADB and Partners Conference 2010, organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The 5-day event has brought together over 600 water professionals and policy makers from around the world to examine critical water challenges facing Asia, and the measures needed to tackle them.

"Harnessing used water will help to lighten the need to transport large volumes of water over great distances; and with lower energy consumption compared to desalination and increasing public acceptance, the market for water reuse is expected to grow exponentially," says a study Water Reuse: Scale, Technologies and Prospects.

The study - authored by Tze Weng Kok, Xin Wei Wong, Sally Toh, Melanie Tan and Siong Teck Koh of the Public Utilities Board (PUB), Singapore's national water agency - examines the experiences of large-scale water reuse projects around the world, with a focus on Singapore's NEWater program which has gradually gained public acceptance since it built its first facilities to treat wastewater in 2003, and can now supply up to 30% of the island state's entire water needs. The program incorporates successful public-private-partnerships, with the water agency given full control over planning and management of water resources from source, to treatment, and to supply.

"Singapore has vested operational and decision-making responsibilities in the hands of a single agency and this is a critical step which allows holistic planning and management of water resources to meet both social and economic outcomes, as well as ensuring long-term water and environmental sustainability," the authors say.

Another paper presented at the conference, From Loss to Profit: Structural Transformation via Reduced Non-Revenue Water, authored by ADB's Michael White and Rudolf Frauendorfer, looks at what can be done to curb the frightening growth of non-revenue water - water that has been produced and is lost before it reaches the customer - by utilities around the region.

Water losses from leakage, inefficient collection, theft and other causes are conservatively estimated at 30% to 60% of the utilities' water inputs, or 29 billion cubic meters a year, worth an estimated $9 billion. The losses stem from factors ranging from chronic underfunding, to weak technical and managerial capabilities, and mainly absent or insufficient business autonomy. These problems have been compounded by low water tariffs, which have left many utilities financially unviable, undermining service and coverage.

"Reducing NRW by half will enable another 150 million urban dwellers to be provided with safe water supplies," the authors say.

With existing water supplies for cities under growing pressure from rising populations, and expanding commercial and industrial activities, the need to cut waste has become even more critical.

The study notes that local and national governments need to set their water agencies free and allow the corporate status that will give them the autonomy to plan and manage their businesses and to set tariffs that allow them to be more financially sustainable. Public utilities should look at mechanisms for attracting private sector support to stem losses, which could include outsourcing, performance-based contracts, and public-private partnerships.

The paper notes that with the right management and political backing, public utilities have shown they can dramatically cut losses, with Cambodia's Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority chopping its non-revenue water from about 73% in 1993 to 6% now, and the Hai Phong Water Supply Company in Viet Nam reducing waste from 73% in 1993 to 25% in 2008, as well as boosting connections almost eight-fold.