Friday, December 11, 2009

Why visitors to Taiwan shouldn't waste water

You might not believe it if you visit Taiwan in the wet summer months – or if you've seen what happens during a typhoon – but the island often suffers water shortages. Nature is part of the problem. The dry season is very long and rivers tend to be short and fast, so a lot of rainwater flows into the ocean before it can be used.

Rainfall per square kilometer is more than three times the global average, but because of Taiwan’s incredible population density, per capita precipitation is less than one-eighth of the world’s average.

The government has urged people and companies to use less, but under the current pricing system many households pay less than GBP2 (USD3) per month for their water, so there is little incentive to conserve water.

Taiwan has a growing number of 'green buildings', several of which feature rainwater-catchment systems. (In 1999, Taiwan’s government became the first in Asia, and the fourth in the world, to adopt sustainable-building standards). These systems store rainfall so it can be used to flush toilets and water lawns. Among the buildings fitted with rainwater-catchment equipment are libraries and factories.

Proposals to build new reservoirs and dams have run into opposition. One plan, to construct a dam that would have inundated Meinong's beautiful Yellow Butterfly Valley, seems to have been dropped for good. Another, which conservationists predict will “tear the heart out” of the Huben IBA (Important Birding Area), is going ahead, despite claims that it could fail disastrously in the event of an earthquake.

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