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Measuring Water use in a Green Economy

Measuring Water use in a Green Economy

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Published by: United Nations Environment Programme on May 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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consistently for the last 15 years providing an exception to an otherwise worldwide increase. This
result is no accident. The Singapore government is one of the few with a publically stated target
for residential sector per capita water use of 140 litres per capita per day by 2030.

Singapore and its Public Utilities Board have also reduced growth in water consumption
by minimising water leakage throughout the city’s water infrastructure which is tracked by
measuring the level of ‘unaccounted for water (UFW)’ (Tortajada, 2006b). This has been
reduced from 9.5 per cent of total water production in 1990 (Khoo, 2005) to 5 per cent by
2002. This is a level that no other country can match at present and contrasts with the fact that
unaccounted for water in most Asian urban centres now ranges between 40 and 60 per cent.

Singapore has also reduced absolute freshwater consumption by 60 per cent through the
development of alternative sources such as extensive stormwater harvesting, treatment and reuse,
treated and recycled municipal water, and desalination. Today, 35 per cent of Singapore’s water
comes from rainfall captured on its own limited territory, about 15 per cent is high-quality
recycled water produced from wastewater by its ‘NEWater’ treatment plants, 10 per cent comes
from desalinated water, and around 40 per cent is imported from Malaysia (ADB, 2005).

In 2010, the Singapore government and its Public Utilities Board announced that it has now
committed to replacing the fnal 40 per cent of imported freshwater usage with further water-
effciency improvements as well as the development of greater levels of water recycling and
desalination so as to eliminate the need for imports from Malaysia by 2060.

This remarkably integrated and holistic approach to sustainable urban water management has
been institutionally possible because Singapore’s Public Utilities Board currently manages the
entire water cycle of Singapore, as well as electricity and gas. This includes sewerage, protection
and expansion of water sources, stormwater management, desalination, demand management,
pricing, community-driven programmes, catchment management, and public education and
awareness programmes, leading to wastewater treatment and reuse on an unprecedented scale.








Consumption Index

Consumption grew 5 times

GDP grow 26 times

GDP (S$ millions)

Total Consumption (mgdy)

Population (’000)

Population Index

Source: Khoo(2008)

GDP Index

Population grew 2.5 times

Figure 2.5

Singapore GDP, population and total water consumption, 1965–2007 (index, 1965 =1)


quantifes the different trends (growth rates)
of resource use or the economy (e.g. as GDP
against time).

In the resource-constrained world we inhabit,
increasing resource use has already reached
physical limits and causes environmental
impacts (e.g. in fsheries, soil erosion or with

2 emissions). The impact per unit of resource
use is increasing, meaning that impacts do not
decouple and, instead, the state of ecosystems

In Figure 2.6 this scenario is represented
in Case I. Here, a decoupling index DI ≥ 1
means that the increasing rate of resource
consumption keeps pace with or is higher than
economic growth, and no decoupling takes
place. This in turn could lead to adverse effects
on human well-being and GDP: prices could
rise further as resources are constrained, while
human well-being goes down.

When DI equals 1 it is the turning point between
absolute coupling and relative decoupling. Case
II describes relative decoupling where resource
consumption falls short of economic growth.

In Case III resource use decreases while the
economy keeps growing.

Neither Figures 2.4 nor 2.6 depict whether
the coupling or decoupling between resource
use and economic growth ultimately leads
to maintaining and preserving ecosystem
services. Whether economic growth decouples
from actual environmental impact depends
on the status and resilience of the affected
ecosystems, over time and space. While very
robust and resilient ecosystems may not show
impacts as a result of increasing resource
use, it is nevertheless important to follow the
precautionary principle, reject the thinking
of ‘flling up everything’ and turn the trend of
resource use in comparison with the reference
value (absolute decoupling).

2.4.1 Decoupling and effciency

The concepts of resource effciency or
productivity are also used to express changes in
the amount of resource inputs used to generate
economic outputs. The key difference is one
of scale: water-use effciency has a greater
micro-level focus on the output of processes

Figure 2.6

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