From The Editor | March 7, 2016

East Meets West: Capitalizing On Water Opportunity In Southeast Asia

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

At times, it might feel like the U.S. has its fair share of water issues without the technology or infrastructure to solve them. Some states lack water, others have too much, and the systems in between struggle to perform. But there are many countries that, in the place of their own rudimentary treatment and distribution systems, would happily embrace American solutions.

To capitalize on this growing appetite, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (DOC) International Trade Administration is planning a July business development mission to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines to introduce American technology firms to the countries’ burgeoning water markets.

Rising In The East

By the DOC’s estimation, Singapore is only able to meet about 50 percent of its 1.4 million cubic meters of daily water (369.8 MGD) demand with domestic resources. According to the country’s economic development bureau, the government committed $330 million to water infrastructure development in 2006 and then committed another $140 million in 2011. The country sees itself as a regional center for water business and expects to employ 11,000 citizens with water tech jobs.

At the beginning of last year, a new Vietnamese law went into effect that required wastewater treatment and management for the first time. To meet this regulation, the country will be developing around 23 water treatment projects between 2016 and 2018 ranging in value from $19 million to over $600 million, according to Global Water Intelligence data cited by the DOC.

Rapid population growth in the Philippines makes it one of the fastest-growing countries in Asia and it has a healthy relationship with American businesses. The water supply has not kept up with the boom and the U.S. Commercial Service estimates that only 43 percent of the population has access to water piped into private premises, with only 25 percent of rural areas able to access water. The DOC expects the market for water resource equipment and services in the Philippines to grow by at least five percent yearly.

The Twain Shall Meet

“The region is developing a great deal of native water infrastructure, that is, there is a lot of greenfield water and wastewater treatment plant development, water transmission and conveyance projects, and water storage projects underway,” the DOC told Water Online. “This presents an early mover advantage to U.S. businesses interested in creating and sustaining the Southeast Asian water infrastructure market.”

This “greenfield” opportunity — the chance to develop projects that are unconstrained by any prior work — exists in a one-time-only window that the DOC says will remain open until 2020. If companies strike now, they can position themselves as preeminent players in the region.

To that end, the DOC is looking to recruit 10 to 15 U.S. companies hoping to expand into Southeast Asia for its trade mission. Interested parties can apply here until the end of April.

“The overall goal of the trade mission is to introduce these companies to the three markets and take advantage of the current and upcoming opportunities available, before the markets become saturated and the opportunities for U.S. companies are lost to other countries,” the DOC said.

A Land Of Opportunity

For a sampling of the types of water projects calling for American solutions, the DOC turns to the Global Water Intelligence project database.

In Singapore, there are plans for a fourth major desalination plant at Marina East on the southeastern coast, capable of handling 30 MGD. There’s also a forthcoming “NEWater” plant in Tuas, an industrial zone on the western shore. “NEWater” is the name that the public utilities board gives to treated wastewater, purified with dual-membrane and ultraviolet technologies.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, wastewater treatment plants are being constructed to relieve the dangerously polluted Nhie Loc-Thi Nghe Canal. It will have a final capacity of 830,000 cubic meters per day (219.3 MGD), making it the largest wastewater treatment facility in Southeast Asia. It’s been designed for sequencing batch reactor technology with UV post-disinfection, but bidders are free to propose their own technologies. $524 million has been invested.

The City of Marikina in the Philippines will support two wastewater treatment plants to provide sewage services to Manila, the country’s capital and second most populous city. The first, Marikina North, will have a 100,000 cubic meter per day (26.4 MGD) capacity and the second, Marikina South, will have a capacity of 18,000 cubic meters per day (4.76 MGD). The project will also include 23 kilometers (14.29 miles) of sewer network and 10 lift/pumping stations. For the treatment plant component, construction is estimated to take one year, followed by a two-year maintenance period.

The companies that end up traveling halfway around the world will hope that these projects and others like it can benefit from their expertise. With any luck, they’ll be making the trip again and again.