With water privatization, Japan faces crossroads in battling its aging pipes
Japan Times -- Dec 18
Japanese water is clean and readily available, as evidenced by drinkable tap water and a nearly 100 percent penetration rate.

But perhaps less known is the dire decay that has slowly chipped away at its infrastructure, casting doubt on its sustainability.

To address this, the Diet passed an amendment earlier this month to the Water Supply Act, paving the way for effective privatization.

But critics say this flies in the face of a global trend toward “re-municipalizing” — or reinstating public control over — water management after years of soaring bills and compromised service quality, which they say underscore the profit maximization ethos of the private sector.

So what’s the status quo of Japan’s water system and what does the revised law do? Here is our look into those questions:

What’s the situation that prompted changes to the law?

Water pipes nationwide, many of them holdovers from the early postwar era that marked Japan’s rise as an economic superpower, are rapidly aging.

Adding to the disrepair is a staff shortage and reduced water use stemming from Japan’s ever-shrinking population that have made it increasingly difficult for municipalities, especially smaller ones, to run their water businesses in a sustainable manner.

Government data show that about 30 percent of water suppliers nationwide have seen their business slip into the red — a situation predicted to only worsen amid a further decline in manpower.

Health ministry statistics meanwhile show that about 15 percent of water pipes across the nation had outlived their 40-year duration as of fiscal 2016 and are thus in need of upgrading. But at the current pace, it is estimated it will take Japan about 130 years to bring all pipes up to date. Only 37.2 percent of major pipes are sufficiently quake-resistant, pointing to the danger of a prolonged water outage in the event of natural disasters, according to the health ministry.

News source: Japan Times
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