Yeh Chieh-ting of Ketagalan Media passed around this piece on the water shortage from Storm. It describes things quite succinctly: this is the worst drought in 67 years. In the last three years we've had only two typhoons, which we depend on to fill our reservoirs -- the usual figure is that 80% of our water arrives in the summer typhoons -- but it hasn't been arriving. Two weeks ago when I went down to Laochijia in Pingtung I was appalled and terrified to see the rivers running in trickles or dry completely. A friend of mine who took her family to Sun Moon Lake told me that the lake looks like it is surrounded by beaches as the reservoir exposes its banks. On Facebook people are passing around scary pictures of empty reservoirs.
Fortunately, the government has a comprehensive, well thought out water policy in response to this amazing drought, which is:
PLEASE GOD GIVE US RAIN
That's right, we've got a whole lot of nothing going on. I'd love to describe and comment on the government's policy, but there isn't one. The only move has been to lower the water pressure in certain cities. Meanwhile Taiwan's extravagant use of water continues unabated -- the government has a water conservation campaign out to curb use from 270 liters per person/day to 250. To put that in perspective, water consumption in Germany was 121 liters per person/day (Wiki) in 2010, in the UK, 150 (link). Water use in water rich US and Japan is rather more extravagant, and much higher than Taiwan levels, though published numbers vary widely. The government has threatened actual physical rationing of water in April if things don't improve... UPDATE: some tinkering around the edges, with early arrival of rationing: here and here.
Unfortunately water consumption is under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which means that it is controlled by the construction-industrial state and the whole idea of conservation and ecologically-based management is ignored, except at private firms where there is conservation and recycling because water costs money. Taiwan should be going the way of other industrialized countries, installing toilets that conserve water, fixing its pipes, and putting in new water infrastructure for delivery and storage, as well as regenerating its aquifers and caring for its rivers and riverine ecologies. But just the opposite has occurred -- Taiwan's haphazard, exploitative depletion and destruction of its water ecology and water resources is just one of the many ways the construction-industrial state has reduced Taiwan's living standards and imperiled its future.
Plentiful cheap water is one of Taiwan's key resources and the foundation of its industrial and agricultural might -- almost all industrial processes require water in some way, as a solvent, a coolant, a raw material, or in waste handling. Moreover, unlike many countries, such as Iraq with the Euphrates or Vietnam with the Mekong, Taiwan is in complete control of the entire length of its rivers and thus of its water policy. Much could be done...
Sadly, nothing fundamental has changed as Taiwan lurches toward water armageddon. The basic problem is that the price of water is too low:
The average Taiwanese person uses 350 liters of water per day, while the average person in the US or Europe uses 150 liters per day. The price of one unit of water in the US and Europe is NT$40, while in Taipei City it is NT$7, and for Taiwan overall, NT$9.As any first year econ major could tell you, if you want to change behavior, you must change cost. And the government for years has refused to change the cost of water use. Moreover, since prices are low, revenues are low. The local water company lacks the money to upgrade Taiwan's absurdly leaky pipe system and other urgently needed infrastructure. With the election coming up soon, nothing is likely to happen. Wouldn't it be great if both parties got together and issued a joint pledge to raise water prices no matter who won the election?
Taiwan prides itself on being a developed country with a GDP of more than US$14,000. Water usage, however, stands at twice that of the US and Europe, and the price of water is equal to that of third-world developing countries. Even prices in China are twice as high as in Taiwan. Not everyone may know that the development cost for a new water reservoir currently stands at NT$22 for one unit of water, while the cost for sea water desalinization is NT$40. This comparison makes it even more obvious that Taiwan's water prices are unreasonable. The Water Resources Agency has on several occasions suggested to the Cabinet that water prices should be adjusted upwards, but all such suggestions have been waved off. The fact is that a reasonable rise in the cost of water would not be much of a burden for the general public.
Meanwhile my neighbor, like hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese, was out washing his car today. The thousands of car washes, shrimp fishing ponds, and other extravagant businesses continue without restriction. Massive pumping of groundwater goes on unabated. We're due for a water reckoning, and the government is doing nothing to change the long term outcome.
Also see: Jens Kastner reviews some of Taiwan's water problems in AmCham last month. And my old post on drought.
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