It pays to invest in water infrastructure

Safe drinking tap water.

By Voon Miaw Ping
COPENHAGEN: Water is core to life and socio-economic development. Over the past few decades, growing global population, commercial activities and industrialisation has led to rising demand for water supply.

The worsening effects of climate change have also caused freshwater resources to become more scarce and to the point of triggering a water crisis in many parts of the world.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2019 also painted a grim picture of the situation.

According to the report, which was released in March, global water use had increased by one per cent yearly since 1980 and this trend is expected to continue until 2050, accounting for an increase of 20 to 30 per cent above the current level of water use.

It also reported that water stress is expected to continue to increase as demand for water grows.

Safe drinking tap water.

The Danish water experience

If there is one country, we can learn from in managing water resources, it has to be Denmark, whose water quality is touted to be one of the best in the world.

“People can just drink straight from the tap as water from the tap in Denmark is generally of a better quality than that of bottled water,” said Kim Madsbjerg, special advisor for water resources at the Environmental Protection Agency, Denmark.

The current situation is a vast contrast to what it was like 40 years ago when Denmark faced water pollution issues, which prompted the government to take affirmative action to address the matter.

And the change was not overnight. It was a case that required long-term commitment from all stakeholders, firm and progressive environmental policies and educational awareness programmes, said Madsbjerg.

According to water technology company Grundfos group communication manager Dorte Maach, when the Danish government started to take action by imposing higher water tariffs, it was met with a lot of objections from the people.

“Water price used to be cheap. We used to pay about DKK250 (RM155) per month for water in the 1980s compared to now where an average Danish household spends about DKK600 (RM371) a month on their water bill. It includes tax and cost of treatment of wastewater disposal,” she said.

(In Malaysia, households in the Klang Valley are charged according to water usage. For consumption of below 20 cubic metres, the tariff is 57 sen/m3; 20-35 m3 RM1.03/m3; and 35 m3 and above RM2/m3. The monthly wastewater treatment cost of RM6 is billed separately).

Denmark’s water tariff is one of the highest in the world today. But Maach argued that the higher tariff reflects the true value and quality of the water and it (higher tariff) is necessary to inculcate in users the importance of conserving the resource and appreciating it more.

Public-private partnership

Denmark would not have been successful in managing its water resources without the support of companies in the private sector.

One such firm is Grundfos, which has been committed to pioneering smart and innovative solutions to enhance water management and efficiency since it was founded in 1945.

The company’s long-term mission in contributing to a greener environment through water management and improving the quality of life for the people was further affirmed when it launched Strategy 2025 in June this year.

The ambitious vision, which specifically adopts the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals #6 — clean water and sanitation — and #13 — fight climate change — will see Grundfos striving to halve its water consumption and carbon footprint by 50 per cent by 2025.

“We set site-specific targets for water use. We are committed to cutting our water consumption by 50 per cent by 2025 and we are currently 34 per cent below the 2008 level.

“By 2030, we aspire towards climate positive,” Grundfos group vice president (Communication, Public Affairs and Engagement & Responsibility) Peter Trillingsgaard told a group of Asian journalists during a media tour of its headquarters and facility at Bjerringbro near here, recently.

He said Grundfos consumed 430,700 cubic metres of water in 2018, a 1.6 per cent decrease from 2017, while its production activity level increased by six per cent in the same period.

“Most water consumption within the group, or 77 percent of the total, occurs at our manufacturing sites. We are focusing our efforts on improving water-use efficiency and the quality of the wastewater through purification,” he said.

Towards 2030, it targets to provide safely managed drinking water to 300 million people in need. In addition, through intelligent water management, it plans to save 50 billion cubic metres of freshwater.

Innovative approach

With a population of 5.9 million, the Scandinavian country’s only water source is groundwater, while aeration and filtration are the only two methods used to treat its water.

As the source is better protected from contamination than surface water, the quality of groundwater is better, thus requiring less treatment.

Madsbjerg said an innovative approach adopted by the Danish government is decentralising the water structure and to date, the sector consists of 2,400 private water companies (also run by local communities) and at least 78 major waterworks that are owned by municipals throughout the country.

In order to ensure the efficiency of water supply, water companies are investing substantially in water infrastructure and this has also resulted in low water loss, about seven per cent nationally.

Kim Madsbjerg, Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency. Photo: Bernama

“It pays to invest in water infrastructure. The Danish water experience has showed that reducing water consumption is possible without limiting its economic growth, while innovation is key to enhancing water management efficiency,” he said.

He added that on average, water consumption in Denmark is only 104 litres per person per day, compared to the United Nations’ recommendation of 165 litres a day to meet a person’s basic daily needs.

Meanwhile, according to data from State of Green, a non-profit organisation in Denmark that advocates green future and sustainability and promotes green innovation and ideas, Denmark’s water consumption had reduced significantly by 42 per cent since 1980.

State of Green head of press Iver Hoj Nielson said a clear and affirmative national policy was also crucial in determining the success of Denmark’s green mission.

Citing the Danish Energy Agreement 2012, he said the document is aimed at making Denmark independent of fossil fuel by 2050. An updated version, New Danish Energy Agreement launched in June 2018, reaffirms and strengthens Denmark’s climate and energy goals towards 2030.

“All parties in the Danish Parliament are supporting this agreement and even though there may be changes in politicians or government, the policy will remain to make sure we achieve the goals set by 2050,” he said. – Bernama

Hofor’s water treatment plant.