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Willpower and technology: How water-scarce countries maintain water supply

With at least 1 in 4 people projected to face water shortages by 2050, Philippines must soon work toward having clean water and sanitation, a key United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal.

But as a recent water shortage that affected over 52,000 households in the metro showed, achieving that goal remains a far reality: Philippines lacked infrastructure, technology, and government funds to even ensure that water taps will not run dry. 

During a Senate hearing on the recent water shortage, Senate President Tito Sotto asked water concessionaires why desalination plants have not been set up in the country to convert Philippines' abundant seawater into potable liquid. 


“It is the function of the cost of desalination. It requires a lot of power and our power cost is very high. So it is not yet economic,” Manila Water President and CEO Ferdinand dela Cruz said.

Dela Cruz said it would cost $2 per cubic meter to treat saltwater. Maynilad also estimated the production cost to be around P80 per cubic meter.

Philippines may however look at several countries for inspiration. 


Here are three countries that have been producing enough water despite their geographic limitations. 


During the early 1900s, Singapore was dependent on Malaysia for water. A ruptured pipeline to Johor during World War II forced Singapore to seek water independence. 

In the past years, Singapore’s Public Utilities Board has won awards for its holistic water management, which included water re-use, desalination and stormwater storage. And despite major investments on water systems, it has been able to maintain low water costs.

Singapore consumes around 430 million gallons of water a day, close to Manila Water’s daily supply from Angat Dam. Forty-five percent goes to households and the rest to other sectors. The country has a simple strategy: (1) collect every drop of water, (2) reuse water endlessly, and (3) desalinate seawater.

Currently, two-thirds of Singapore’s land surface serves as water catchment areas through dozens of reservoirs. These reservoirs are also tapped to serve as community and recreational spaces. They will continue to import water from Johor – around 250 million gallons a day – until 2061.

Singapore also gathers waste water and purifies it using (1) microfiltration to remove particles and bacteria, (2) reverse osmosis to filter out contaminants and (3) ultra-violet disinfection, which eradicates remaining organisms. Chemicals are also added to restore the water’s pH balance, making it safe to drink. However, it is mainly used for industrial water needs. This “NEWater” can meet up to 40 percent of the country’s water needs. 

Singapore has three desalination plants that can serve 30 percent of the country's demand. They continue to construct additional plants.

Water demand will double by 2060, and Singapore, in foresight, has moved toward increased NEWater and desalination production to meet 85 percent of the country’s water needs.


South Korea is now known for having clean and drinkable tap water after recorded years of contamination. Despite having only three percent of fresh water in its territory, access to water for its population is universal. 

South Korea has dams that control flooding and store water for the dry regions. It also spent $18 billion to restore polluted rivers and streams. Their desalination plant also produces 45,000 tons of fresh water a day, which covers the drinking water needs of 150,000 people.

Buildings in 59 cities of Korea also have tanks that collect rainwater, on top of existing technologies that make their water system efficient.


Because of Israel’s dry climate, it was forced to process a lot of wastewater and seawater for farming needs.

Sixty to 80 percent of its municipal water comes from desalination plants while 31 percent of their irrigation water are sourced from 150 plants that treat wastewater.

While Israel still has water shortage, it projects that by 2025, it will source 1.1 billion cubic meters of water from the sea.

Not surprisingly, Israel is home to the world’s largest reverse osmosis desalination plant, which can meet 20 percent of the country’s domestic water needs. 



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