This article is seriously serious. Reading time: 15-20 minutes.
-written by: Marlistya Citraningrum
Introduction: water statistics
Water is essential for all forms of life, for human body, for animals, for plantation. None can survive in life without water. However, the water resources is declining time by time, induced by massive increase of human population, and triggered by the climate change affecting the population. The United Nations declared a decade for water, a program called Water for Life, 2005 – 2015. This underlines the need to reserve water in global scale to prevent any lack of water.
Southeast Asia region, famous for beautiful beaches and natural sceneries, has been known to be a tropical area and has high rainfall intensity throughout the year. The geographic property of Southeast Asia, which comprises of many mountains, hills, and floodplains, contributes to the accumulation of large amount of water during monsoon season. According to Asian Development Bank statistic, the total annual water resources (AWR) throughout Southeast Asia are more than the world average in 2007 surveys (exception for Singapore, which is “only” 0.6 cu.km), ranging from 479 cu.km. for the Philippines, 891.2 cu.km. for Vietnam, to even 2,838 cu.km. for Indonesia.
Related to water withdrawal, agriculture has taken a large portion, annually in the percentage of 98% in Cambodia, 91% in Indonesia, 62% in Malaysia, and 68% in Vietnam (Pacific Institute, 2006). Singapore as exception, 51% of water withdrawal goes for industrial purposes. Other than industrial and agricultural uses, freshwater withdrawal also taken for domestic purposes, including drinking water supply. In Southeast Asian countries, the amounts used for domestic purpose are still low, and even for that low percentage, the inhabitants access to safe drinking water are not as high as European and American countries.
Water-related problems in Southeast Asia
Before being hit by economic crisis in the late 1990s, Southeast Asian countries have suffered from environmental danger for a long time. This region mostly consists of developing countries, in which population blooms in a significant rate. The population growth in Indonesia, for example, averaged at 5% in the last decade, making the country’s population more than 243 million by July 2010. More than half of that live in Java and Bali islands, instead of more than other 17,000 islands. Human activities require lands, water, and minerals; industrial and urban growth contributes to pollution and environmental degradation; deforestation occurs, water sources deplete. Water-related problems generally can be divided into three major issues: brown issues, gray issues, and green issues. Southeast Asian countries are being challenged by all those problems.
What so-called “brown issues” is related with local water issues, such as one mentioned in the aforementioned introduction: access to safe drinking water, then lack of sanitation and inadequate drainage. The problems affect the environment in contained scale, around the neighborhood and local communities. As the statistic of human population pointed, increase in human population leads to urbanization, and then rise in poverty. In Southeast Asia region, averagely 19.8% of the populations live in poverty, with the highest live in Laos. Those live in such condition have little or no access to proper water and sanitation. Only 51% of total population in Laos has access to safe drinking water. Statistic also shows 87% of city population can have proper drinking water access and 82% for those living outside the city in the Philippines (Pacific Institute, 2004). The sanitation coverage also has not reached 100% in most Southeast Asian countries. Myanmar, by 2000, covers only 64% of its population and Indonesia is still struggling with its sanitation progress in 55% level (UNEP RRCAP, 2004). Apart from the sanitation coverage, sewerage systems are also still behind. Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia with its 8 million people population, has no integrated water sewerage system, and only 2% of the city served by sewerage (UN-HABITAT, 2003). Metro Manila sewerage service covers 7%, and even none of the urban centers in Laos are provided with proper sewer system.
Poor sanitation and improper sewage system can cause some illness and even death, specifically for younger age population. It is estimated that total annual death caused by poor sanitation in Vietnam reached more than 9,000; 11,000 in Cambodia, and even 50,000 in Indonesia (WS-EAP, 2007). This fact points out the needs for better sanitation and sewerage systems in Southeast Asian countries.
In such developing region, the fast industrialization is often not followed by systematic waste and wastewater treatment so that they continuously pollute the environment. This is the “gray issues”. Not only that industry contaminates water line by some toxic chemicals, lack of sewerage systems from household as mentioned previously also contributed to the low quality of water in many parts of Southeast Asia. It was found that the BOD of Asian rivers are 1.4 times the world average (ADB, 1997). A study by Kido et.al (2009) comparing water quality of rivers in Indonesia and Japan found the river in Indonesia is not so heavily polluted compared to Japan, but one of their findings is that the pollution in Indonesian rivers mainly came from agricultural residues, compared to chemical pollutants in Japan. It indicates there is lack of sewage systems and proper wastewater treatment in Indonesian water system, also the fact of intensive agricultural activities involving fertilizers. In Vietnam, farming activity also contribute to the water degradation. The shrimp farming contributed to a large number of BOD, COD, and TSS; mostly from individual farms effluents, which may exceed environmental standards, but not necessarily for extensive farming (Anh et.al., 2010). Intensive study of arsenic contamination in groundwater along Red River and Mekong Delta in Vietnam also has been reported (Agusa et.al., 2006; Nguyen et. al., 2009; Berg et.al., 2007). The level of arsenic exceeds the WHO regulation up to 40% and becomes potential health risk to the residents nearby. Berg and his co-workers estimated that 10 million people live along Red River Delta and 0.5 – 1 million people in Mekong Delta are at risk of chronic arsenic poisoning. Though the sand filtration system may reduce the arsenic contents in significant amount, more advanced and developed technologies are needed to maintain the arsenic level in the required guidelines. In Indonesia, some semi-modern tannery industries employ chromium in form of basic chromium sulfate. Though the wastewater are treated by precipitation, the effluent still contains as high as 108 mg/L chromium and thus needs more treatment in order to meet government standard (Santosa et.al., 2008). The Philippines also suffers similar problem. Untreated wastewater from domestic households, containing residue of linear alkyl benzene sulfonate from detergents, discharged directly to Balatuin River affected the aquatic communities in the water body and can be harmful to human health (Dyer et.al., 2003).
Excessive amount nutrients in water body also another problem. The nutrients are originated from household waste, organic solid waste, industrial wastewater, and animal manure, and can cause eutrophication and thus harm the environment. Instead of just discharging valuable nutrient and losing it, it is suggested to improve the sewage and sanitation systems in order to recover some valuable nutrients. Roughly 4,400 tones phosphorus per year are discharged in wastewater in Hanoi region, Vietnam; 44% coming from agricultural waste products, 36% from liquid effluent of households (Montangero et.al., 2007). Montangero also analyzed that phosphorus recovery can be enhanced by integrating urine diversion latrines and decreasing consumption of agricultural products, taking more on fish and vegetables. In the river of Chao Praya, Bangkok, Thailand, pollution by nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates also found, in amount of approximately 25,000 metric tons of nitrogen and 900 metric tons of phosphorus, annually (Faerge et.al., 2001).
Flooding and coastal area degradation are also gray issues. Southeast Asia is located in the equatorial region, and also in the intersection of active geological plane. Heavy rain season and poor water line trigger flooding throughout Southeast Asia, and it is approximated there were more than 200 flood events from 1990 to 2006. In Jakarta, habitual flooding occurs annually, as well as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, though not as often as Jakarta. Coastal areas also deteriorate due to several causes, such as port development and industrial discharge. United Nations estimated more than 1 million tons BOD per year are discharged to South China Sea from Cambodia and Thailand, not to mention phosphorus and nitrogen (UN ESCAP, 2000). Coral reefs, one variable to measure coastal zone degradation, are also not in good condition. In Vietnam, over 73% of the reefs are highly threatened, 70% in the Philippines and 43% in Indonesia (WRI, 2002). All these statistics indicate the water challenge throughout Southeast Asia region.
Green issues deal with water consumption, water scarcity, and vulnerability to climate change. Per capita water consumption in Southeast Asian region is considered lower than most American cities, with Bangkok as the highest water consumption spends 352 liters per capita per day, 25% lower than New York City. Despite the high freshwater resources, not all water withdrawn and taken by cities makes its way to consumers. Some loss water due to poor water systems is considered normal, taking into account the old water supply system. Jakarta still employs the systems built by the Dutch somewhere between 1900 and 1940, even older in Phnom Penh. Water scarcity often occurs, and government needs to develop better water system to fix the problem. Countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia, need to increase water development by between 25% and100%; while others like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand are below 25% (Seckler et.al., 1999).
Climates are changing, shown by temperature increase, rising of sea level, and changes in precipitation. Many cities in Southeast Asia located near the sea, and often barely a meter above sea level. It is predicted by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001 that by 2100, the sea level will rise between 0.09-0.88 m; and thus places many cities in Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia at risk of being drowned (Nicholls et.al., 1999). This is a global water issue, not just affecting some areas in particular, but happens in almost all coastal area in the world.
Though being known as rich water resources area, Southeast Asia region suffers from some water-related problems; lack of access to safe drinking water, poor sanitation, chemical pollution to water bodies, water scarcity, and climate change which induce sea level rises. These problems need to be solved extensively and as integrated as possible to maintain the continuing water supply to the whole population.