8 Asia Water Risks: Here Today & Here To Stay In Asia

By China Water Risk 19 August, 2019

Typhoons, water outages, sea level rise... we review 8 water threats too great to miss in Asia from just the past 3 years

Asia is highly exposed to water risks; climate change is only going to accelerate & accentuate the impacts - case in point is Typhoon Mangkhut's serious damage to Hong Kong last year
In Zhejiang, Typhoon Lekima evacuated millions while Typhoon Jebi forced Japan to close Kansai airport for 10 days; it's not just typhoons - Manila & Chennai are running out of water
Elsewhere, Bangkok & Jakarta face the risks of land subsidence & sea level rise; then there is saltwater intrusion threatening some GBA cities' fresh water supply; time for Asia to wise up!

It has become clear over the last several years that serious water & climate risks are here in Asia and are here to stay. Be it record breaking & devastating typhoons in Hong Kong/ China/ Japan or complete water outages in Manila/ Chennai, saltwater intrusion in Zhongshan or sea level rise in Bangkok/ Jakarta, Asia is exposed. Even Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has acknowledged that it must treat climate change seriously as the Republic is a low-lying island.

We need to wise up and act in order to become resilient and adapt, especially as climate change is only going to accelerate and accentuate these risks and impacts.

Below are 8 water and climate risk incidents across Asia in the last three years in case you have had your head in the sand.

1. Hong Kong – Super Typhoon Mangkhut caused considerable damage in vulnerable low-lying areas & raised questions around high wind speeds

In September 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut – the most intense storm in Hong Kong history – caused “serious and extensive damage” to Hong Kong. Tseung Kwan O, situated in New Territory East, is a new residential town favoured by many developers in recent years. Multiple new private residential estates along the low lying coast of this area were flooded from Mangkhut’s storm surge, such as Monterey (Wheelock), Ocean Wings (Sun Hung Kai properties), Alto (Lai Sun Development) and Twin Peaks (K. Wah International). Twin Peaks experienced the most serious impacts: its underground carparks and electrical meter rooms were flooded, causing water & power supply disruptions for more than 3 days, affecting nearly 400 households.

Another impacted private housing estate is Heng Fa Cheun, located on the east side of Hong Kong island. It is constantly hit by extreme storm surges due to its location. Damage here was also serious with car parks, ground-level shops, apartment blocks, promenades and sea walls were destroyed.

Maximum wind speeds of 250km/h recorded during Mangkhut with some gusts reaching 256km/h – is HK’s code enough to protect its buildings?

Beyond water risks, Typhoon Mangkhut raised questions around Hong Kong’s resilience to wind speeds. Buildings in Hong Kong have to be built to withstand winds of 250km/h according to Hong Kong’s Buildings Ordinance. However, maximum sustained wind speeds of 250km/h were recorded during Mangkhut by the HKO and with gusts even reaching 256km/h for short periods. With such strong winds already, are Hong Kong’s code enough to protect it?

2. Eastern China – Millions affected & evacuated due to Typhoon Lekima; Zhejiang estimates losses of over USD2.5bn

Earlier this month Typhoon Lekima hit eastern China, mainly Zhejiang and Shandong provinces and Shanghai. The 5th worst typhoon to hit China in 70 years caused more than 1mn people to be evacuated, widespread of blackouts, 3,200 flights were cancelled and 36,000 houses & 364,000 hectares of crops have been destroyed. Unfortunately, there have also been 44 deaths from this typhoon and 16 people are missing (as of 12 August 2019). Many of these occurred due to landslides and collapsed buildings. Floods were extreme. Heavy rain pushed 73 rivers past danger level and 38 of those burst their banks, including three that broke records for flooding.

Economic loss from Typhoon Lekima is estimated at around USD2.55bn

The Director of the Zhejiang Research Institute of Water Resources Development and Planning, told Xinhua news agency that Lekima had caused so much damage because the typhoon had inundated high ground and also posed a serious risk to low-lying coastal areas. Economic loss estimates are around USD2.55bn.

3. Japan – Kansai airport closed for 10 days due to Typhoon Jebi; Swiss Re estimates total insured market losses at USD6bn

In September 2018, Typhoon Jebi forced the closure of a runway at Kansai International Airport for 10 days due to flooding, which saw the only road and rail bridge connecting the airport with the mainland being damaged. The terminal typically serves about 400 flights a day and after 10 days started to serve just 120 flights (30%).

Kansai airport is the main international airport for all of western Japan, which known for its growing tourism industry, energy-related industries such as lithium-ion battery manufacture and healthcare industry with global brands such as Sumitomo Electric Industries, Panasonic and Omron. Swiss Re estimated overall insured losses from the Typhoon at USD6bn, but this does not include costs that are non-insured, nor do they include costs from business interruptions.

4. Manila – Millions face water interruption as city’s main reservoir hits critical low

In early March 2019, numerous areas in metro Manila – 6mn customers of Manila Water Co. – began to experience water outages. In fact, some districts went without water for days. At the height of the outage, thousands of people were lined up in front of pumps & fire hydrants with pails to fill, public hospitals were turning away less urgent cases and malls had shut down toilets.

Manila Water Co., blamed for the crisis, was fined $10mn & ordered to spend $12mn to build new infrastructure

The cause, a combination of a 60% decline in rainfall, low levels in the La Mesa Dam (lowest in 12 years) and not keeping up with infrastructure for growing demand. Manila Water Co. has accepted the blame for the crisis. They had a daily shortage of 140mn liters. The company has been fined $10 million fine for breach of contract and ordered it to spend $12mn developing a new water source.

As of early July, there are still water issues due to an unexpectedly light rainy season. Without new water infrastructure and better management, Manila’s water crisis is expected to worsen in the future.

5. Chennai – Already out of water with months to go before monsoon season brings any respite; $$$ millions spent to transport water in

In the middle of a hot summer in June 2019, with temperatures reaching over 40°C, the city started running out of water as the lakes and reservoirs that supplied it dried out so much that they contained less than 1% of their capacity. Chennai’s large automotive and technology sector is affected; these include global brands such as Fiat Chrysler, TCS, Wipro, Infosys and Cognizant. Some of these companies have had to ask their employees to work from home, are transporting in water for their operations and/or are reducing non-essential work.

With the monsoon season only expected in October, things are expected to get much worse. The government’s decision to spend USD9.8mn to ferry tanks full of “drinkable water” by train from a city 140km away highlights the severity of the situation.

6. Bangkok – Faces double whammy of ongoing land subsidence and sea level rise

Bangkok, home to round 10mn people and built on once a marshland about 1.5m above sea level, is now largely under the sea water level. Bangkok is currently sinking by up to 2cm each year. The longstanding and excessive use of underground water in areas without tap water supplies and the heavy weight of tall buildings are accelerating the sinking of the city.

40% of Bangkok is expected to be inundated by an extreme rainfall as early as 2030

According to one case study from the 2017 Global Climate Risks Index, 40% of Bangkok is expected to be inundated by an extreme rainfall event and experience a 15cm sea level rise by as early as 2030, assuming a temperature increase of 4°C. Without urgent actions from the government Bangkok’s future is uncertain and is completely vulnerable to devastating floods like in 2011.

7. Jakarta – More than 40% of the city is now below sea level, and the government is planning to move the capital at a cost of USD33bn

Jakarta is home to 10mn people and 18% of Indonesia’s GDP is produced there, yet every year the city is inundated by flooding, and by 2050 95% of north Jakarta could be underwater, affecting 1.8mn people. Land subsidence has been the main culprit as residents and industries have been depleting aquifers so much that the land is now collapsing. However, climate change is making this worse due to rising sea levels and a greater frequency of floods. Therefore, in April 2019, the government announced that it will move the capital out at a cost of USD33bn. Alternatives are building a large sea wall at a cost of USD40bn.

8. Zhongshan, Zhuhai and Macao – Fresh water intake turns salty necessitating the transfer of 133mn m³ of water

The GBA faces saltwater intrusion near the river mouth of the Pearl River, which is the movement of saline water into freshwater systems, diminishing the quality of water the residents and companies receive. This has affected a number of cities, in particular Zhongshan, Zhuhai and Macao. Active saltwater intrusion from October 2016 to February 2017 meant that the local government had to transfer in 133mn m³ of water from upstream to ensure safe water supply for Zhuhai and Macao. As rivers retreat due to over-extraction and the sea encroaches, freshwater intake points may have to be moved further upstream. Such upgrades in infrastructure could be extremely costly due to the ‘crowded’ city structures.


Further Reading

  • Hot, Thirsty, Sweaty & Wet: HK’s Future Down The Drain? – China Water Risk’s Woody Chan & Debra Tan look beyond current tensions and see very real threats to Hong Kong’s future from climate change. Get ready for a hot, thirsty, sweaty & wet future
  • Climate Change, Groundwater & Agriculture In India – The hidden risks of groundwater are clear in India as it is key for the country’s food security and already is largely over extracted. What can India do? Dr Aditi Mukherji from the ICIMOD, shares ways forward
  • 3 Takeaways From CEWP’s 2019 Groundwater Policy Dialogue – With China and Europe joining forces to tackle groundwater over-exploitation, China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu was on hand to bring us the latest policy and tech ideas from the Jinan forum
  • Going Dutch! Smart Drinking Water Networks – Gondwana, an optimisation tool equipped with evolutionary algorithms, adds a nervous system to make drinking water networks ‘smart’. See how from Ina Vertommen, Dr Karen van Laarhoven, Dr Mirjam Blokker & Dr Peter van Thienen from KWR
  • Environmental Watering In The Murray-Darling Basin – Megan McLeod from the Alliance for Water Stewardship explores how the Renmark Irrigation Trust benefits the Murray-Darling Basin by providing environmental watering, enhancing biodiversity and promoting tourism
  • 3°C Transition Risks: It’s H2O, Not Just CO2 – 3°C is happening. This means we need to invest so we are ready for longer droughts, more intense & frequent floods, more damaging typhoons, as well as changing monsoon patterns and river flows. China Water Risk’s Dharisha Mirando & Debra Tan warns.
  • Are Asia’s Savings Exposed To Water & Climate Risks? – Asian asset owners have portfolios skewed towards domestic markets that will bear the brunt of climate change. Find out about these risks and what to do as our Dharisha Mirando shares key takeaways from the new report China Water Risk co-authored with Manulife Asset Management & the Asia Investor Group on Climate Change
  • Confronting Storms & Climate Risk In HK – Typhoons Hato and Mangkhut have wreaked havoc in the Greater Bay Area but Dr. Faith Chan from the University of Nottingham Ningbo believes these climate risks can be confronted, with Hong Kong leading the way
  • More From Less: Building Water Resilience – Water and climate are really two sides of the same coin so what are the holistic solutions that can build resilience? Bluetech’s Paul O’Callaghan sat down with Ecolab & Aquatech experts to explore these and more

China Water Risk
Author: China Water Risk
We believe regardless of whether we care for the environment that water risks affect us all – as investors, businesses and individuals. Water risks are fundamental to future decision making and growth patterns in global economies. Water scarcity has emerged as a critical sustainability issue for China's economy and since water powers the economy, we aim to highlight these risks inherent in each sector. In addition, we write about current trends in the global water industry, analyze changes occurring both regionally and globally, as well as providing explanations on the new technologies that are revolutionizing this industry.
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