How water conservation can affect the reliability of recycling

161004-F-XX000-011For years, I have been reading about the need to conserve water – to use lesser water to brush, bathe, wash and irrigate plants. I have also read a great deal on the need to recycle water – how used water from toilets can be reused for gardening, how used water from washing machines can be reused to clean floors and so on. In Singapore, where I live, NEWater has become such an important source of water that during the prolonged dry spell of 2014, rationing of water to citizens was avoided mainly thanks to the facilities for recycled water. Singapore has also gone out of the way to change the paradigm by referring to wastewater as “used water”.

But, somewhere at the back of my mind, I wondered what would happen to the supply of recycled water if people began to concertedly conserve so much that they produced lesser wastewater and consequently there was not enough water to recycle.   Continue reading

Does gender matter?

bws-women-640x300“Finally a speaker who is not a man! Yay!”

This was an anonymous comment from a delegate in the interactive digital platform at SIWW Spotlight 2017 held in Singapore that brought together water utility leaders from around the world. As the comment flashed on the big screen, more yays were added to it with assenting laughter all around. The comment came in the wake of a keynote presentation by Professor Joan Rose of Michigan State University, who later sat in a panel discussion with five men.

When the question of women managers in the water sector comes up, I am always a conflicted. On one hand, I do want to see capable women in important roles – as engineers, managers, utility chiefs and CEOs, but on the other hand, I do not want them to be chosen merely because they are women. I have seen these feelings echoed by many female water sector leaders. Continue reading

Fill up my glass please

10914959_10152898586948778_6325900801743596033_oI still remember the first time I asked for water at a restaurant in Germany. “Gas?” he asked and I said “No, water.” Again he asked if I wanted gas and again I said water. It was really getting very perplexing with me wondering how Germans managed to drink water in gaseous form. It all became clear when a bottle of sparkling water arrived at my table, of course and there was some righteous indignation when I later saw how much it cost (after converting to Singapore Dollars).

Over the years, I have followed the stories of tapwater being served or not in restaurants. Turned out that Germany was a special case in Europe where tapwater was also charged. In the United States, I was happy to note that getting tapwater (and free!) was not a problem at all. The bigger problem was to get it without ice and at room temperature. Continue reading

The obliviousness of water footprints

Shopping Supermarket Market Goods Food MeatI was sitting next to a Texas-based businessman from Saudi Arabia on the plane. He was highly amused to see me eating vegetarian. “If you give me vegetarian, I will throw it away and eat you!” he joked and bared his teeth.

I gulped and organised my thoughts on how to use this teachable moment to talk about water footprints without being offensive. He was already well-aware that vegetables were more healthy than meat but didn’t care because he’d rather live short and eat what he loved than live long eating vegetables. He wasn’t even co-relating his numerous health complaints like gout with diet. Caring for animals’ feelings would not cut ice with him because his favourite hobby was hunting.

“How do you like to drink toilet water?” I asked. Continue reading

When tourists consume more than the locals


I had hung up my towel on the rack for reusing. The usual placard in the Delhi hotel bathroom said only towels on the floor would be replaced. But when I returned to my room at night, I found a new towel in place.

That was in 2013, the year when 35 five-star hotels were given notice by the Delhi government for using 15 million litres of water per day of municipal supplies. Half of these hotels did not have a dedicated sewage treatment plant. It was one of the hottest summers and Delhi residents were suffering disruptions in water supply.

Tourism-related water use is very small as a percentage of total water used in countries. And yet, the local picture is entirely different. This is because it competes for the same water used by the local population. Continue reading

Thailand’s inventor king who left his imprint on water resources


Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-ruling monarch (1946-2016) has passed away. For Thais who are less than 70 years old, he was the only king they ever knew – an adored father figure and a unifier. But the water sector will remember the king for an unusual achievement – rainmaking. Continue reading

Multi-purpose infrastructure is the need of the day

30BE6317-E021-4319-B4DE-6ACAF6483582By now, we all know that cities account for more than half the world’s population. Come 2050, it is expected that another 2.5 billion people will move from villages to cities. In China alone, more people that the whole population of the USA today will move into cities by 2050. These are mind-boggling numbers and present a scary picture of the future liveability of cities or rather the lack of it, especially in South and Southeast Asia.

Already, we see how a day of intense rain causes havoc with flooding. The inexorable march of climate change is bringing more intense rain at odd times or no rain at all. The ‘heat island’ effect of cities with bumper-to-bumper traffic jostling for space with humans gets accentuated during times of no rain. Continue reading