How technology can help address the challenge of water shortage

How technology can help address the challenge of water shortage

How technology can help address the challenge of water shortage


In Hong Kong, we can have clean water just by turning on the tap, but that is not necessarily the case in many other places.

At present, 700 million people in the world don’t have access to enough clean water. The number will increase to 1.8 billion people within the next 10 years.

In terms of volume, salt water on earth is about 50 times more than fresh water. We could turn sea water into drinking water. Hong Kong had tried that measure in the past, but the cost was far too high.

This year, the MIT Technology Review in the United States selected the 10 Big Global Challenges Technology Could Solve, and one of the cases it cites is Israel’s desalination technology.

The world’s largest seawater desalination plant is located on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It supplies water to 20 percent of the country’s nearly 9 million population.

In the future, when additional plants are running, 50 percent of the country’s water is expected to come from desalination.

The existing plant uses a conventional desalination technology called reverse osmosis, together with new types of membrane technology to enhance energy efficiency.

Singapore also faces the problem of water supply. The country consumes 430 million gallons of water a day (about 60 percent of Hong Kong’s water consumption). With population growth and economic development, it is expected that the demand for water in the city state could almost double by 2060.

There are three solutions: 1) construct more reservoirs to collect every drop of rainwater; 2) reuse household, industrial and commercial used water endlessly by five water recycling plants, which supply 40 percent of the country’s needs, and raise it 55 percent; and 3) desalination supplies 30 percent of the water consumption.

Aiming to become a global hydro hub, Singapore is actively marketing its hybrid water management solution to other places. Since 2006, it has invested S$670 million (US$495 million) to foster the technologies.

At present, Singapore has 180 water companies and more than 20 research centers promoting the ecological development of the water industry. It is a win-win approach to address the global crisis while looking for business opportunities for itself.

What about Hong Kong? We have experienced water shortage before. Fortunately, we can obtain water from the Dongjiang in Guangdong province. However, we also face many challenges, such as rapid expansion of the city, deterioration of more than 8,000 kilometers of underground fresh and salt water pipes, etc. Technology could help in addressing these challenges.

Before the handover, the Water Supplies Department (WSD) had taken the lead in using advanced geographic information system (GIS) to enhance the Digital Mapping System of the water main network. It has been a pioneer in the use of the system among government departments at the time. GIS is used to collect, combine, and process spatial data pertaining to the water supply network and data from field trips. The information is not only for water supply, but also for collaboration with other government departments and public organizations.

With the advancement of technology, the public’s expectations have also increased. The WSD has introduced the Water Intelligent Network (WIN), which is expected to reduce the water pipe leakage rate to 10 percent from 15 percent at present.

The WSD’s efforts have recently been recognized by the Leading Utilities of the World (LUOW), a leading global network of the world’s most successful and innovative water and wastewater utilities.

Earlier, WSD deputy director Chau Sai-wai presented the department’s innovative efforts in energy efficiency, information technology and intelligent water network, as well as water treatment and quality at the Singapore International Water Week 2018. The WSD was awarded the LUOW membership certificate.

I have had the privilege of participating in the establishment of the Digital Mapping System since 1996, witnessing the department’s efforts at self-improvement. I hope that the department will continue to use the innovative approach and smart technology to improve Hong Kong’s quality of life.

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