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Water is our unvalued treasure

We do not attach any specific value to water because there is plenty of it today. However, one cannot even spend 24 hours without it. Any person who is dying of thirst in a desert will be willing to give up whatever valuables they have in exchange for a single cup of water. What should be done in order for Mongolians to fully recognize the true value of this precious treasure and start protecting and saving water? Do we need to run out of water and be threatened by dying of thirst to realize its value?

WORLD WATER DAY

In 1992, the United Nations declared March 22 as World Water Day and called on every nation to spend this day analyzing and improving their consumption of water, as well as their attitude towards water usage. Water scarcity is causing 14,000 deaths a day (11,000 of which are children below the age of five) worldwide. It is projected that a total of two billion people will be suffering from water scarcity by the year of 2050. What is and will be the cause for such a scenario to come true? On one hand, 98 percent of the total water resources on Earth is saline water, one percent is locked up in polar ice caps, and another one percent (which is available for human consumption) is in rivers, lakes, and underground. On the other hand, as the world’s population keeps increasing, water consumption is going up at even faster pace. To make matters worse, 95 percent of all the cities in the world are disposing wastewater into sources of fresh water such as rivers.
Mongolia is not an exception. Although no one has died of thirst so far, it is safe to say that the train has already left the station. Ulaanbaatar, which has become the home of more than half of our total population, is looking at its sole source of fresh water being significantly compromised. Our groundwater levels have dropped 15 meters while international organizations are ringing alarm bells that our capital city will start suffering from a water shortage in 2017. Their warning is supported by the increasing consumption of water, lower efficiency, and reduced water reserves. Also, the infrastructure that delivers water to residents of the city has become greatly damaged, and there is a high probability of simultaneous pipe failures.

WHERE DO WE GET OUR WATER FROM?

Mongolians do not pay for water itself, but for the services it is provided by, such as its purification and transportation. It costs 0.55 MNT per liter for the industrial use of water whereas you pay only 0.32 MNT if you live in an apartment. Also, it costs 7,950 MNT for a fully loaded five-ton truck to transport water to ger districts. Water distribution points in ger districts charge one tugrug per liter, which means a total of 5,000 MNT is collected when they finish distributing five tons of water. Therefore, operators run a deficit of 2,950 MNT every time such distribution takes place. The Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, which collects, purifies, stores, distributes and protects drinking water, ran a deficit of 10 billion MNT in 2013, and is projected to have a deficit of 16 billion MNT this year, taking the expected performance into account. Thus, they can barely keep operating, let alone improve the city’s water infrastructure. As the existing infrastructure is already 50 to 60 years old, one should not be surprised if their tap water has turned yellow because of rust. On the contrary, it is fortunate that those old pipes are still functioning despite the excessive amount of rust that has made them more narrow.

DO WE CONTINUE USING WATER SAME WAY WE DO TODAY?

Mongolians who live in an apartment use 276 liters of water a day on average, which is quite a luxury. It is two to three times more than the water use of an average household in a developed country. On the contrary, people living in ger districts carry their water from a well to their home themselves, and one person has an average daily water use of 8-10 liters, which is very small.
Factories and plants use water for industrial purposes mostly, but they currently do not sort out and clean the water that is too polluted, or treat the water used to wash and process animal skins and wool. Due to malfunctioning equipment, some companies send toxic water to the central wastewater treatment system and interrupt its normal performance.
The central wastewater treatment facility is too overloaded and is pumping domestic and industrial wastewater into the Tuul River without proper treatment. People who live in the Yarmag and Songino areas are falling victim to the pollution. They do not know what to do except complain about thick smog in winter and an unpleasant smell in the summer.
The water that isn’t properly treated changes the color and smell of the Tuul River, which flows a distance of about 100 kilometers. As a result, our beloved Tuul has become one of the five most polluted rivers in the world. Every time senior officials from the government, as well as the city management, visit the river, they react with fake surprise and promise to resolve the issue before escaping in their huge jeeps. Many government administrations have been aware of the problem, but none of them have ever acted upon it. It appears that they not only are incapable of solving such a problem but also have their hands tied by corruption.

LET US CHANGE OUR ATTITUDE!

On World Water Day, we should follow international practices and look at the way we are using water and the attitude we have towards this treasure of ours. Before the inevitable water use restrictions in three years time – whether those measures might be extensive or not – we must start taking action and demand that the government do the same. It has been many years since the Tuul River dried up every spring, causing fish to die in large amounts. We, the residents of the capital, might encounter the same fate those fish faced. Among all animals, fish are the only ones that keep silent when they are caught and killed. We have not become like them yet, so we must make our voices heard. It is time for us to unite under a common goal and do something about our nation’s water. For instance:
1. As there are no other choices, we should accept an increase in the price of water used domestically and industrially. This way, the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority can operate efficiently, which will allow them to improve the city’s water infrastructure step by step. Also, we need to have citizen representatives present at their Board of Directors meetings for the purpose of public scrutiny.
2. We should raise awareness so that people will realize the value of water, change their attitude, start using water in a sustainable way and adopt a culture to save water.
3. Other measures we should take include: using our fresh water for human consumption only, treating water for other uses, making the best out of water from rainfall and snow, developing comprehensive plans for each of the city’s districts, and demanding that the factories that process animal skins treat the water resources they pollute. If such factories are moved to more rural areas, it should be required that they pump the water they use back into the central system.
4. In accordance with the 2013 decision to increase the tax on groundwater used for mining and industrial purposes, half of the revenue from such tax now goes to local government. But we have to make sure that the local governments use that money to increase drinking water reserves. For example, half of Umnugobi aimag’s 13 billion MNT, Zavkhan’s 10 billion, and Ulaanbaatar’s three billion should be spent to fulfill that purpose.
5. Reservoirs should be built wherever possible in the country to catch and contain 20 percent of the water from flowing rivers. We need to build a dam that spans the Tuul River east of Ulaanbaatar and accumulate fresh water. Also, a modern beach and resort should be newly established.
My fellow Mongolians, it is time for us to love our water, which is the very foundation of our happy and healthy life. In recognition of World Water Day, we must treat our water dearly!

Translated by B.AMAR

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=8431

Posted by on Mar 25 2014. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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