Study urges HK rethink on water amid climate change

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 December, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong should devise a water policy that goes beyond cross-border negotiations over supply and pricing in light of rising climate change threats and competition for the precious resource, a local think tank says.

Hong Kong and Macau should be involved with the Pearl River Water Resources Commission and work with other delta cities to avoid future conflicts and carry out research into adapting to climate change, it says.

The think-tank also suggests a task force be set up to review water policy issues. But it says increasing water tariffs is not politically feasible now but is desirable in the longer term once the public recognises the importance of water security.

The Civic Exchange study, 'Liquid Assets: Water Security and Management in the Pearl River Basin and Hong Kong', was released yesterday.

The study says as the PRD basin is one of a few relatively healthy river systems on the mainland, regional water resources management and co-operation should be stepped up to tackle pollution and climate change threats.

But the think tank warns that Hong Kong faces at least two challenges towards this goal. One is the lack of a genuine water policy and the other is its detachment from its Guangdong counterparts in regional collaboration.

'The government does not have a water policy. The only policy is the negotiation of price and quantity. It is not involved in the long-term management of water resources,' Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief executive officer of Civic Exchange, said.

She said the 'supply-led attitude' of officials in water resources planning meant the policy only focused on the 'contract, piping and cleansing' of imported Dongjiang water, a guarantee given by Beijing since the 1960s. Loh is also concerned about the intensifying competition for water along the Dongjiang watershed.

A scramble for water could evolve into conflicts between cities, especially in times of drought or the increasing demands of economic development.

Loh said it did no good to the region as a whole if the cities held a competitive attitude rather than co-operating to manage water demand and supply in the long term.

A Development Bureau spokesman said the total water management strategy promulgated in 2007 also addressed the water supply issues relating to climate change and low rainfall.

'The strategy puts emphasis on containing the growth of water demand through conservation while water supply management will also be strengthened,' he said.

The spokesman said a study was being done to identify how to adapt the use of water resources to climate change.

As to regional co-operation, he said Hong Kong had good relations with Guangdong authorities, including the Pearl River Water Resources Commission.