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劉廼強 | 16th Oct 2009 | SCMP | (19 Reads)

Water shortages are now a global problem. China, as a whole, is short of water, but previously this was not the case in monsoon-affected Guangdong. Industrialisation and the surge of migrant workers has exacerbated demand rapidly. Rainfall has also dropped, probably because of climate change, leading to frequent droughts in winter and early spring in recent years.

This year, the situation is getting worse, with rainfall 17 per cent below average. In some areas in the northern and eastern part of the province, it is down as much as 30 per cent. At least 130,000 hectares of farmland have been affected, and more than 200,000 people face shortages of potable water; many reservoirs are now more than 40 per cent below capacity.

As we know, most of Hong Kong's water supply, and all of Macau's, comes from Guangdong. Last year, we consumed 956 million cubic metres of water, of which 653 million cubic metres, or more than 60 per cent, came from Guangdong. Traditionally, Hong Kong water consumers have enjoyed preference over their Guangdong counterparts, a fact that is bound under contract with Guangdong. As a result, come what may, we do not have to worry about water shortages.

As a matter of fact, our reservoirs are always full, with the constant supply from the north. During rainy seasons, a huge amount of water has to be released into the ocean. This wastage is considered part of life here, and no action has been proposed to reduce it.

According to figures on the Water Works Department's website, as of October 5, our reservoirs were 83 per cent full with 487 million cubic metres of water in storage. This can last us for six months at least, until the rainy season, without Guangdong resupplying us.

If only as a good-neighbour policy, we should ask Guangdong to stop supplying water to Hong Kong for the next quarter. After that, if the drought does not lift, life can still go on as usual with half the normal supply until June. By then, our depleted reservoirs will be ready to receive all the water they can get from the heavens, without much having to be wasted.

This goodwill gesture will be of tremendous help to the Guangdong authorities, and here in Hong Kong there is nothing to lose. Apart from alleviating our neighbour's problem, we will also save a lot of precious rain water rather than having to pour it into the sea. An added bonus is that we may reduce our water bill with Guangdong.

In short, this is good solution for both Hong Kong and Guangdong, as well as the environment. Since it is not the first time our neighbour has suffered a drought, not performing such an act of goodwill, when the problem is out in the open, would be pure negligence.

It was recently admitted that Hong Kong loses as much as 20 per cent of its water supply through leaky pipes, at a cost of some HK$700 million annually. In the coming years, Guangdong will desperately need that water for its own use. Fix those leaks, please.