Friday, September 23, 2011

No. 83: Water business in Japan and the world (2) (September 23, 2011)

Administration of the water business in Japan
The coverage of the water supply system is 97.5%, and people can drink safe water anywhere inside Japan. Actually, Japan is blessed with water resources as shown by the fact that it has annual water resources of about 410 billion cubic meters as against annual consumption of about 83.1 billion cubic meters in 2006. However, there are lots of problems with the administration of the water business in Japan.

A vertical administrative system manages every aspect of Japan’s water business from water intake to drainage. The system dates back to a three-way split of the water supply business enacted in 1957. Following the three-way split, Water Supply Act, Industrial Water Supply Business Act, and Sewage Act were enacted in succession. As a result, water supply was assigned to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry, industrial water was assigned to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and sewage was assigned to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

The three-way split was the driving force of the infrastructure improvement during the high economic growth. In addition to the high coverage of water supply mentioned above, supply of industrial water increased about five times, and the coverage rate of sewage treatment reached 84.8% in 2008. The three operations of water supply, industrial water, and sewage are being managed by local governments under the initiative of public companies affiliated with Home Affairs Ministry. At the same time, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries manages rivers and lakes, while the Ministry of the Environment takes care of the regulations of sewage. It is rather hard for the central government to supervise the water business in an integrated manner because many ministries and agencies are concerned with the water business intricately.

Japan’s water business has currently a total debt of more than 40 trillion yen. The Japanese government is being asked to reform the administration of the water business because of lots of factors, such as the decreasing water demand due to low birthrate and longevity and the necessity of huge investments to renovate the existing facilities. To solve the current problems, it is necessary to facilitate the collaboration between the pubic and private sectors, draw nationwide pictures, and promote the reform under the initiative of the central government. (To be continued)

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