Wasting water

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 12:00am

The Director of Audit has on several occasions drawn attention to money being poured down the drain. He may not have used that phrase, but he is certainly entitled to describe the water contract between the Government and Guangdong Province in those terms.

Elsewhere in the world, analysts predict that a mounting water shortage could soon become the main cause of wars. Here, it is regularly poured into the harbour because, even though the supply is in excess of requirements, there is no flexibility in the agreement that would allow the Water Services Department to cut back on the order.

The situation arose in 1989, when a contract was signed anticipating a growth in demand by 3.47 per cent annually. The estimate was based on the territory remaining as a thriving manufacturing centre.

When factories moved across the border in the early 90s, demand dropped dramatically, resulting in water everywhere that no one had a use for. So $1.7 billion was simply dumped into the sea.

When it does reach household taps, Dongjiang water, which supplies over 80 per cent of SAR needs, is laced with chemicals. As quality deteriorates, we are not only stuck with too much of the stuff, but have had to pay $139 million since 1996 in order to make it drinkable.

Last year, a new contract was negotiated that cut the quantity bought by two-thirds. Yet, officials failed to conclude a deal that would balance supply with demand. They are resigned to paying $2.4 billion yearly for a sub-standard product. The idea of seeking compensation does not seem to have occurred to anyone.

Most worryingly, the Director of Audit claims quality does not meet the department's standards, and the chlorine content exceeds World Health Organisation standards.

By 2005, $1.8 billion more will have been poured into the sea. The Director of Audit suggests re-negotiating the agreement or making future contracts more flexible.

A sounder idea would be to put the matter into the hands of any consumer, who would certainly know how to get a better deal.