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Tipping Points And Divergent Paths: Water Strategies In Hong Kong And Singapore

Congress: 2015
Author(s): James E. Nickum, Y. S. Frederick Lee
University of Hong Kong1

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,
Oral:
AbstractThe presentation will look at "water stories" in global cities, most of them coastal, rich and relatively wet. In these largely "mature" water economies, per capita use has usually begun to decline or at least level out, although the causes are not clear. Yet provision costs have not declined commensurately, often generating a conservation-driven budgetary crisis that forces institutional change, including moves towards full cost pricing and, sometimes, greater private sector involvement . Often complications arise from the need of megacities to reach across administrative boundaries and watersheds to secure their supply. These are common problems, but we also find that specific paths taken by urban water economies depend upon critical choices at certain tipping points and larger governance considerations beyond the water sector.

Hong Kong and Singapore provide a good comparison/contrast in this regard. In terms of their "initial conditions," they are very similar, yet they have moved along different paths. In the early 1960s, both Hong Kong and Singapore were British colonies, suffering from severe drought. Both looked to diversions from neighbouring areas to secure a water supply, but at the cost of political insecurity. Both sought to address this problem through commitment to greater self-provision. From the mid 1980s, Hong Kong abandoned this strategy. In both cities, water prices have been frozen since the beginning of the 21st century, but Singapore has covered its costs while Hong Kong has relied on subsidies. We explore this divergence from a number of perspectives, not only historical but also in terms of the underlying political, budgetary and governance features.

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