How is it possible for a country without a single sewer line in 1958 to have 90% of its wastewater treated by 2012?
A report from Korea Water and Wastewater Association (KWWA) tells an impressive narrative of the country’s water sector expansion and development between 1960 to 2012.
According to the report, Korea’s successful water sector development mirrors the country’s remarkable economic progress.
Achieving a successful water sector transformation depended on three formative decisions made by its government:
“First, the country made water sector development an integral part of the transformation of the economy. Second, the country adopted not only ambitious water sector targets but also developed and applied the laws, strengthened institutions, and provided financing to translate goals into results on the ground. Third, the government instituted rigorous monitoring and reporting of resources and results to hold institutions accountable on progress made in the sector.”
In 1962, piped water coverage in the country was only 18%, growing to 98% in 2012. At present, 164 local governments provide pipe water to the population, and the rest are supplied by private waterworks and wells.
Water supply and wastewater investments started from 1960 to 1975, partly funded by international aid.
By 1976, these projects were completed, and soon after, domestic resources financed large-scale projects.
In 1961, household sewerage coverage was only 2%. It grew from 8.3% in 1980 to an impressive 70% by 2000, and by 2012 coverage reached 91.6%.
The fast sewer connection rate and wastewater treatment have reduced pollution in water bodies, especially in large cities.
The report shares a remarkable example of how Korea’s policies reduced the incidence of intestinal parasites in the population. In 1971, 84% of Korea’s general population had Helminthes, an intestinal worm that leads to serious health problems ranging from deaths, malnutrition, anemia, and other delayed intellectual development. Korea’s effective policies reduced the infection rates to only 2% by 1995.
In 1980 with urbanization and industrialization growth, the water quality deteriorated due to untreated wastewater discharges into water bodies. Pollution of surface and underground water bodies has resulted in widespread deaths that the governments decided to change the water quality standards.
In the 1990s, policy and regulatory reforms required utilities to publish annually tap water quality. The river water quality also improved due to increasing regulatory requirements to reduce pollution.
The government is expanding the role of the private sector in the construction and operation of wastewater infrastructure. Between 1998 and 2008, US800 million private capital was spent constructing 100 wastewater treatment plants.
By 2012, private sectors operated 58% of WWTP. According to the report, operational costs can be lowered to 25% when private sectors operate compared to the local sector.
The government plans to make water and wastewater treatment plants more efficient. It aims to reduce wastewater plants’ electricity consumption by 50% from the grid by 2030 by incorporating alternative and clean energy sources like biogas, solar power, wind, and hydro. The government also plans to use sludge from its wastewater treatment plants for energy generation, which could help reduce carbon emissions.
Korea’s water sector transformation is undoubtedly a success story. But its transformation is still not complete. The report states that there is over-capacity in water supply and wastewater systems due to over-optimistic demand projections, resulting in excess investment in waterworks.
The government is looking to lower the cost of water production and wastewater treatment costs and optimize assets use by creating regional companies that could make operational decisions on the economical use of assets.
Korea’s implementation of Infrastructure Asset Management practices and techniques provides further opportunities to optimize its water and wastewater sectors, as discussed in another blog on the same topic.
To know more about how Korea successfully developed its water sector and water sanitation, click the link below:
REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Transformation of the Water Sector (1960 – 2012).
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