Experts say S’pore needs higher water tariffs

TODAY | March 18, 2013

Singapore – Water tariffs may not be raised this year, but two experts in the field of water management are urging that the Republic looks at doing so — by at least 30 per cent — and soon.

Professor Asit Biswas and Dr Cecilia Tortajada note that Singaporeans are high consumers of water, at 152 litres per person per day, while water tariffs have not increased since 2000 — even as household incomes have gone up 61 per cent.

“Singapore’s goal to reduce domestic consumption to 140 litres per person per day by 2030 is not ambitious enough. To proceed further down the road to self-sufficiency by 2061 (when the Johor water agreements expire), Singapore needs to reduce consumption through proper pricing,” said the authors of The Singapore Water Story in an interview with TODAY.

They noted that several European cities are aiming by 2015 to cut water consumption per capita to 100 litres a day, and Singapore needed to look at innovative pricing models to encourage water conservation.

Prof Biswas, who was awarded the water sector’s version of the Nobel Prize in 2006, said the increase should be “at least 30 per cent”, noting that water tariffs make a less-than-1 per cent dent in household incomes.

But Dr Tortajada — President of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico, founded by Prof Biswas — acknowledged the political difficulty of raising water tariffs when the cost of living is rising.

“The problem is that the longer you put it off, politically it will be more difficult to increase prices, having allowed it to go down in real terms for 13 years.”

Last week, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said water prices would not be raised this year. But he stressed that water needs to be “correctly priced to reflect its scarcity value”, while facilitating various long-term investments in the sector.

Marking Singapore World Water Day on Saturday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans to work together to conserve water, even as the Government does its part. “We have made it a national priority to provide reliable and clean water. We must continue to conserve every drop of water and take care of our rivers and reservoirs,” he wrote on Facebook.

Their Singapore Water Story book coauthored by Yugal Joshi, details the Republic’s quest for water self-sufficiency over the last 45 years and more.