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Water shortages: restrictions on consumption necessary but insufficient


On the occasion of World Water Day on 22 March, shortly before the 7th World Water Forum to be held from 12-17 April 2015 in South Korea, a UN report was issued sounding a warning. If nothing changes, the planet is expected to face a total water shortage of 40 percent by 2030. In the face of population growth, intensive irrigation and industrial pressure, water tables will not be sufficient to cover freshwater needs in a context of global warming. This is already a tangible reality in some regions of the world facing periods of extreme drought, which have already implemented initial restrictions and are now attempting to find more sustainable solutions.

Just a few weeks apart, California and Taiwan adopted drastic water restriction measures. On 1 April 2015, the US state of California, which is now entering its fourth consecutive year of a record-breaking drought, issued a decree aimed at reducing water consumption by 25 percent within nine months. In the wake of this decision, a number of cities have decided to prohibit filling swimming pools and watering lawns. And San Diego has announced the creation of a water police force with the authority to go after violators and issue fines for wasting water.

Water reservoir – ©Bernard Rivière

In Taiwan, which is experiencing its worst drought in seventy years, the national water utility issued a progressive rationing plan early this year. The latest measure to date: shutting off the faucet for more than a million people two days a week in the north of the island. If that proves insufficient, a new phase with systematic cutoffs will be decided, with water to be distributed in bottles. And there is every indication that this will soon be the case. After three initial phases of rationing that led to substantial savings, reserves are still insufficient. The Shihmen dam, which supplies several cities in the north, was at only 24 percent of capacity in early April. As long as the situation does not return to normal, the government is asking the population to collect and store rain water for cooking, washing and toilets.

The Taiwanese government is hoping to take these measures over a longer term in a country where the cost of running water – one of the least expensive in the world – leads to waste. To combat it, rewards have been introduced for water-saving consumers. Such measures act as incentives for consumers to modify their behavior. The Governor of California believes this is an obligation as “we have entered a different world and we must act accordingly”. And change our culture.

A pioneer in terms of programs for the rational use of water, Australia has managed in several years to change attitudes by acting on all fronts, thanks in particular to actions taken by SUEZ Environment in that country. These include the requirement in some states to install cisterns on the roofs of houses, and even recovering wastewater for toilets and gardens, mandatory labeling of household appliances indicating consumption performance, higher water prices in periods of drought, and financial incentives to renovate sanitary facilities, etc. By becoming responsible for better management of this resource, every Australian is less likely to face the inconvenience of weekly water cutoffs.