Migrants, who were found at sea on a boat, collect rainwater during a heavy rain fall at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, outside Maungdaw township, in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on Thursday. (Reuters Photo/Soe Zeya Tun)
The United Nations predicts that by 2030 there will be another billion people on our planet, which will increase pressure on our finite natural resources — perhaps most importantly, water.
Currently 84 percent of the rural populations and 96 percent of urban populations in Asean countries have access to clean drinking water, while the level of wastewater treated varies from 100 percent in Singapore to less than 15 percent in Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam.
Given the significant population growth projected in the region, it is widely admitted that unless there is more investment in water and wastewater treatment technologies, these statistics will not improve and could deteriorate.
For countries that do invest in improving their water quality standards, there are the obvious health and environmental benefits, and also economic opportunities. Asean's water treatment sector is now valued at $15 billion and offers employment opportunities for thousands of workers in an expanding industry.
Improving the region’s drinking water
The 54 million people expected to move to cities in the Asean region by 2025 will increase pressure on municipal water supplies, already today under severe stress.
To meet this challenge, significant investment is needed. This is most efficiently obtained through filtration technologies, particularly membrane filtration and the effective ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis systems that extract up to 99 percent of physical impurities from water.
The use of disinfection technologies is also important. The alternatives range from sodium hypochlorite dosing, gas chlorination, ozone, to on-site generation of biocides using electrochlorination technologies. The latter is more technologically-advanced, offering sizeable advantages in effectiveness, raising safety standards, and reducing chemical use.
As water treatment is also a long-term investment, failure to invest in cutting-edge technology today may have negative repercussions in coming years, with hardware maintenance, upgrading regulations, and societal economic impacts driving the need for scalable, more advanced drinking water systems.
Raising the bar on wastewater treatment
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the capital cost required for Asean to achieve universal coverage in sanitation and wastewater to be more than $15 billion. However, the costs of not doing so are more: untreated wastewater can lead to health issues and severe environmental impacts. According to a 2008 UN report the cost of poor sanitation on the Philippines economy was around $1.4 billion/year.
In West Java, the Citarum River, home to over five million people and the source of 80 percent of Jakarta’s water, has been named by environmental NGOs, Green Cross Switzerland and the Blacksmith Institute, as one of the world's top 10 most polluted sites. The Asian Development Bank established a project in 2008 to clean up the river but the situation has worsened to the point that fisherman now collect plastic to be recycled, as the fish and fauna have been killed.
This April in Vietnam, more than 100 tonnes of fish suddenly died due to toxic water released into the sea. It was estimated the local fishing economy lost over $5 million and the regional tourism market also suffered, with around 30 percent of tourists cancelling holidays.
Asean accounts for one quarter of global fish production and it is a vital part of the region’s economy. It is not just up to one country to protect the environment, it requires a collective effort. Aquatic animals in the region already face an estimated extinction rate five times higher than animals that live on land.
Stricter regulations and enforcement for the treatment and disposal of wastewater can improve the health of the region’s oceans and waterway, broader environment, the economy, and ultimately the quality of life for habitants.
Our view is that all public and private sector stakeholders in the region should be meeting WHO’s standards requiring a minimum of at least two forms of treatment. These are primary or mechanical treatment and secondary or biological treatment. It is preferable to include the tertiary phase, to provide the highest quality of wastewater, however if this is not possible we recommend the additional use of disinfection.
Limiting impact through recycling
Rather than dumping wastewater directly in waterways, recycling it for use in industrial and municipal water supplies sees Singapore as a leader in the hydro world.
Singapore was an early adopter of this technology. Currently 30 percent of Singapore’s water is reclaimed through treatment to make it safe for reuse. By 2030, 50 percent of Singapore’s water will be recycled reducing the country’s reliance on other sources of water.
The adoption of this technology by other countries in the region can also help provide the water they need for their economies to prosper, and reduce untreated wastewater effluent.
Investing in the future
There is no quick-fix solution to improve the treatment of the region’s water and wastewater. However, if public and private stakeholders work together it can have a positive effect. The huge growth in Asia’s clean-tech industry shows this is already happening.
Global water treatment company De Nora has been active in the region for 30 years and sees the Asean region as one where investment in technology and expertise can make a real difference.
We are happy to be part of Singapore International Water Week for the first time following acquisitions in 2015 which saw us broaden our portfolio, and joining our industry colleagues in these important water management discussions.
Vincenzo Palma is De Nora's Regional Sales Director for Asia Pacific