Taiwan’s Water Shortage – A New Norm

As the plum rain season descended on Taiwan, the rain it dropped into rivers, water tables, and ultimately reservoirs around the island, has seen the drought that started in April gradually come to an end.

And due to global warming, with climate change hitting Taiwan as everywhere, coupled to no typhoons making landfall across Taiwan last year in a 56 year first not seen since 1964, Taiwan really did struggle to make it through its annual three month ‘dry season’.

The impact was felt more by people living in central and southern Taiwan than in the north with many of the nation’s most important reservoirs’ volume dropping to as low as 10% of capacity, and some reservoirs effectively drying up altogether; the famous tourist attraction Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan made headlines nationwide for its desert-like appearance due to a lack of water, and central Taiwanese cities in Taichung and Miaoli were forced to impose water restrictions from early April.

In recent decades and historically, rainfall in Taiwan is usually around 2.6 times the world average.

However, we still have to face the reality of water shortages.

To this end a fundamental problem we now face is how to avoid wasting water to prevent such shortages from becoming the new norm in Taiwan.

One aspect often overlooked is the water price in Taiwan; far below the global average, making it hard to control the usage of water as it is seen as “too cheap” to worry about.

According to data, Taiwan’s water price is the third lowest in the world, at around a quarter of the price billed in the US and Japan.

One CM (cubic meter) of water costs just NT$9.24 (US$ 0.33).

At these prices it is easy to ignore water controls.

Education is of course a crucial step in saving water. Taiwanese are sometimes considered wasteful in their water use because of a lack of knowledge in how to reuse water.

Many people see the water used in a bath and after washing dishes as dirty, used and thus incapable of being used again.

However, bathwater is actually still reusable.

Water used in a bath can be used to flush the toilet, water from a dehumidifier to water plants, etc.

Promoting such concepts through education, on the Internet, and in TV commercials could help people learn, benefiting both reservoirs and the individual.   

California in the western US also faced a period of drought this year – like Taiwan since April.

Forty one of the state’s 58 counties have declared a state of emergency. Nonetheless, the governor still hasn’t announced any restrictions on the use of water. But why?

California experienced a long dry period between 2011 and 2019.

In the midst of this – in 2015 – they had the first water restrictions forced upon them, reducing usage by 24%.

From that point in time Californians learned how to save water in their daily lives. Many simply fixed leaking pipelines, shortened showering times or reduced the time set aside for watering lawns, and so on.

Nowadays, overall water usage has decreased 16% compared to 2013, even though the population has risen by almost 1.5 million in the same time.  

Singapore is another potential role model on water issues, and is closer to home.

Although the rainfall in Singapore is also above average, this tiny country is still suffering from water shortages due to high demand and limited land capable of collecting water.

As Singapore’s water supply agreement with Malaysia will expire in 2060, and along with it around 50% to 60% of the current water supply used in Singapore could dry up, the government continues to look at efforts to be independent on water issues.

One plan centers on four desalination plants, which could supply 30% of all the water needed across the country.

The island nation has also developed techniques to reuse water as ‘juvenile water’ to (re)supply non-domestic water usage.

Furthermore, the Singaporean government also educates their citizens on how essential it is to save water including promoting concepts using videos and advertisements, or education at schools.

So, while climate change is continuing to affect our water supply, Taiwanese too have to come up with alternatives to deal with the new norm of water shortages around the globe.

Taiwan’s government and our people should learn from others’ experiences, otherwise the situation will become worse – a lot worse.

Text: Kent Kuo

Image: redcharlie

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