Rethinking water management to address the water crisis

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By Kim Jensen
Group Senior Vice President & Regional Managing Director,
Grundfos Asia Pacific Region

TODAY, more than half the world’s population live in cities, and in Asia we are expecting unprecedented growth. By 2030, megacities of 10 million inhabitants or more will be located primarily in Asia. Manila, in particular, will be the fourth largest megacity in the world in terms of population.

As epicenters of human activity, cities see intense production and consumption, depleting huge quantities of our limited natural resources while contributing to climate change. One of the most critical resources under mounting stress in urban cities is water.

Recently, Manila experienced its worst water crisis in nearly a decade. More than six million people were affected when water supply by service provider Manila Water was cut off suddenly, aggravated by limited infrastructure as well as shrinking dam supplies following the El Niño dry spell.

The crisis comes as a stark reminder that we need to treat water security as a top priority. We need to make a fundamental change to the way we manage water. This means rethinking the different aspects of water management, including how we approach existing infrastructure all the way through to how we educate people to use water more efficiently.

Buildings account for a significant amount of water and energy consumption in cities, and more residential and commercial buildings are coming up in the Philippines. According to Colliers International’s projections, about 15,100 residential units and 1 million square metres of office space will be added to the Philippines property market this year alone.

Green buildings have become the new mantra for sustainable development of cities, including the Philippines. There are ongoing efforts to boost the development of these eco-friendly buildings that focus on efficient use of resources such as water and energy. Regulatory enforcement such as the Philippines’ BERDE (Building for Ecologically Responsive Design Excellence) is setting a benchmark for sustainability efforts by businesses and developers.

However, for buildings to really make a difference in their consumption levels, we need to look beyond just planting trees or incorporating energy efficient office design. We need to also review the entire hardware and systems of buildings to create greater efficiency in all aspects.

For example, pumps control the water and cooling system of a building, operating and using energy year-round. There is also a major opportunity to reduce water losses along the supply chain. However, with pumps out of sight, few realize the environmental and economic potential of replacing inefficient pumps. By using efficient pumps, buildings can go a long way in meeting sustainability by improving energy and water efficiency standards as well as saving costs.

In response to the Manila water crisis, a rotational water supply scheme was implemented so people in the affected areas could store water. While this helped ease the crisis in the short run, a more informed and longer-term approach to citizen action is needed to effectively tackle this issue.

Digitalization and data at home can help inculcate a culture of water conservation by increasing an individual’s awareness of their own water usage – effectively empowering them with ‘water-wise’ behaviour.

The concept of a “smart home” opens up a wealth of new opportunities for water sustainability. Installing something as simple as a digital water meter provides consumers with information on water use, where they can meaningfully adjust their behavior to save both water and money in the process.

Singapore is one country that has already started to adopt this approach, with smart water meters installed across new and existing homes as part of an initiative by its national water agency PUB, to encourage water conservation as well as help with water demand management.

Smart home devices are becoming more common in the Philippines as well with the roll out of smart meters to monitor energy use, and we should look at a wide-scale adoption of the same with water.

We ultimately need public-private partnerships to ensure that new innovation is not only developed, but also incorporated on a large scale. Industry players can introduce innovative solutions to address water-related issues, as well as bring unique expertise to the table; while a mandate and support from the government is critical to a project’s success.

By leveraging synergies in research and development, and through the exchange of best practices, such partnerships ensure faster and more effective development and deployment of innovative water management solutions.

Water management is one of the biggest socio-economic-ecological issues of the 21st century, not just for the Philippines but across the globe. Innovation is key for governments and industry to drive water efficiency and inculcate a culture of water conservation at the critical rate and scale we need.

The water crisis is a complex and multi-faceted issue, and to effectively secure the Philippines’ water supply, we must address the issue at all levels of water governance.


Kim Jensen is Group Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director, Grundfos Asia Pacific Region.