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Why Water Matters — Optimizing Our Water Consumption

In Singapore, where clean water is always readily available from the tap, it is difficult for people to understand the inconvenience caused by water shortage and how water scarcity can impact their lives…

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(Photo by Carmine De Fazio on Unsplash)

Everybody needs water

We all need water to maintain our physical needs and basic living comforts. Water is also required for industrial development and maintaining the cleanliness of our environment. The Singapore government has been actively developing water resources to ensure a stable supply of water throughout the nation. Currently, the four main sources of water in Singapore are the reservoirs, imported water from Malaysia, NEWater, and desalinated water. These various sources of water are sufficient to meet the country’s daily demands for water, thereby ensuring water security.

Apart from actively sourcing for new water resources, the government also encourages and reminds all residents to use water wisely in daily life. With combined efforts in water conservation and water resources development, we can ensure a more secure water supply for our country. Singapore's per capita household water consumption was 165 litres per day in 2003. It reduced to 153 litres in 2011 and further reduced to 151 litres in 2013.

People generally have better water conservation awareness now, due to actions taken by the government to encourage water saving practices. This is evident in the yearly decline in the average household water consumption in recent years.

The government has set the target for water consumption per household at 147 litres per day by 2020, and further lowers it to 140 litres by 2030.

However, with the increase in population over the years, the nation’s demand for water has increased, too. Moreover, in recent years, Singapore has been experiencing erratic weather patterns. We faced the worst drought in 2014, where there was no rain for 27 days – a rare phenomenon in a tropical country with high precipitation. Although it did not affect our water supply, the drought had caused a sharp decrease in our water reserves, and this served as a warning to everyone of the importance of using water wisely.

The practice of saving water has become increasingly important. Although the government has been urging the public to save water and use water savvy household appliances, many still do not realise the value of water resources and fail to conserve water. In Singapore, where clean water is always readily available from the tap, it is difficult for people to understand the inconvenience caused by water shortage and how water scarcity can impact their lives.

Different attitudes towards water

In Singapore and Malaysia, water supply is called “自来水”in Chinese, which literally means “water that comes on its own”. Hence, although the process of supplying water to homes is huge and complicated, many people take it for granted that water will “automatically” flow out of the tap on its own. This is the common perception and attitude of consumers towards water. In Japan, however, water supply is termed as “Kyusui”, which means “give water”, with the hidden meaning that water is something that is “given” to people. Drinking water is called “Josui”, which means “water of the highest quality”. These differences in terminology reflect the different perspectives towards water by people of different countries.

If all residents treat water resources with respect, they will naturally develop the habit of saving water. This complements the government’s policy of developing water resources, and thus, our water supply can be ensured.

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(Photo by Wong Twee Hee)

Water flows away in between our fingers

In Singapore, household water consumption in 2010 made up 45% of the total water consumption, which was a significant amount. According to research, around 29% of the water was used in the washroom while the other 22% was used in the kitchen. Most people do not realise how much water they use in the bathroom every day. The water from a shower flows directly into the drain to be discarded as waste water. Each drop of water is precious, because it does not come easily; it requires a lot of effort to supply water to homes.

Based on calculations, about 9 litres of water can be saved by shortening our shower time by just one minute, while cutting down on the amount of time spent

on washing at the kitchen sink by just one minute would save approximately 8 litres of water. If everyone is mindful in using water in the washroom and kitchen, we may be able to reduce our daily household water consumption to 143 litres, which is lower than the 147-litre target set by the government for Year 2020.

Water conservation should start at the source, i.e. the faucet. Once the tap is turned on, water starts flowing away in between our fingers. In order to prevent wastage, we can fill a container with water before we begin washing things. When we wash fruits or clothes in a container of water, we will use less amount of water. The same concept can be applied to a car wash, i.e. by filling a pail with water to wash the car.

Extending the life of water

Used water is also known as waste water. But does it mean that waste water is no longer useful anymore? In fact, a lot of the used water in households can be reused. Many housewives will reuse the water they use to rinse vegetables, dishes, and even laundry. Not only can we save water by doing so, we may save on our bills, too. For example, water used for bathing can be stored for flushing the toilet; this is how we can extend the life of water. Housewives could spread this concept to other family members so that everyone could work together to reuse water at home. If water is given a “second life” by reusing it multiple times, not only can we achieve the goal of reducing water consumption, we can also save an incredible amount of water.

We must ensure that there is not too much residue in the used water and that it is properly stored in a container covered with a lid, so as to prevent mosquito breeding. The water must be quickly reused and should not be kept for too long, so as to prevent odor. Waste water can actually be put to many good uses if we are mindful.

Be more mindful when using water

Dharma Master Cheng Yen always reminds her disciples to be more mindful. The same reminder is very applicable to the practice of water conservation in our daily life.

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We can learn from those who practise water saving habits and exchange ideas with each other. Tips for saving water can also be found on the Singapore Public Utilities Board (PUB) website and the media.

Water saving tips on the PUB website: https://www.pub.gov.sg/savewater

Water is an invaluable resource that nourishes and sustains all life on Earth, including human beings. As long as everyone is mindful, it will not be difficult to save water, and doing so will not affect the quality of our lives. Water is not a readily available resource in modern cities; a difficult and complex treatment process is required to supply water to our homes. Hence, water must be treated with respect, in order to complement the government's water resource development policy. Then, we can ensure the security of water supply, which is crucial for national security.

Editor’s note:

Tan Chee Sing is a Tzu Chi volunteer who works as an assistant architect. He actively advocates simple and environmentally friendly home designs that are also economical and practical. He believes that our home environment is greatly influential in shaping our personality, improving society, and enhancing universal values and beauty.

Article originally posted on Singapore Tzu Chi World Journal, Issue 57

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