Asia-Pacific Region Lacks Water Security: ADB

MANILA, Philippines

A new joint study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asia-Pacific Water Forum (APWF) warns that over 75 percent of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region have a serious lack of water security, with many facing an imminent crisis unless steps are taken urgently to improve water resource management.

“While the Asia-Pacific region has become an economic powerhouse, it is alarming that no developing country in the region can be considered ‘water secure.’ Countries must urgently improve water governance through inspired leadership and creative policymaking,” ADB Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Bindu Lohani said.

The Asian Water Development Outlook, research for which began soon after the 2007 inaugural Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Beppu, Japan, is the first quantitative and comprehensive view of water security in the region’s countries.

It focuses on a key set of critical water issues and recommends policy actions to improve water governance, as well as guidance for finance and planning leaders on investments to improve their water security.

The report examines the water security spectrum via five “dimensions” from household level through urban, economic and environmental water security to resilience to water-related disasters. It also creates a scaling system and indicators to rank the progress of the 49 countries in the study.

The five water security stages range from “hazardous,” where there is some legislation and policy on water and the environment but inadequate investment, regulations and enforcement, through to “model,” in which agencies, services, sources of financing and levels of water consumption are all sustainable and governments demonstrate new models of water governance, support advanced technology, research and development, and initiate or lead international partnerships.

Among the headline findings, the report shows that 37 of the countries in the region are either suffering from low levels of water security or have barely begun the vital task of improving this situation.

While 12 countries have water security infrastructure and management systems in place, none were found to have achieved the highest “model” stage of water security.

South Asia and parts of Central and West Asia are under the worst pressure, the report warns, with rivers under enormous strain particularly in Armenia and India. South Asia has the worst household, urban and environmental water security, and the least resilience to water-related disasters.

Many Pacific islands were found to have a lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and to be very vulnerable to increasingly-severe natural disasters.

The report reveals that East Asia, which suffers most from natural disasters, is relatively better off because of its higher investment in disaster defenses. However, urban water security remains problematic.

Nepal is found to be the least resilient to natural disasters due to widespread poverty and very low coping capacities, including typically poor disaster preparedness, although it is not as exposed to such events as many other countries.

New Zealand emerges as the only country with low exposure to hazards and low resilience, whereas neighbors including Japan, Singapore and Australia suffer frequent water-related hazards but have strong capacities to cope with disasters when they occur.

Two critical issues are highlighted – sharp increases in inequality of access to water and sanitation, and the increasingly poor state of rivers.

The report provides a series of recommendations for each of the five key dimensions – for example, for environmental water security, the authors recommend accelerating the integrated water resources management (IWRM) process, as well as public investment, market-based approaches and support from the private sector.

A series of “policy levers” is also suggested, such as expanding deployment of cost-effective wastewater treatment and investing in early warning systems.

The report concludes with 12 key messages for leaders, which are:

  • Invest in and incentivize “reduce, reuse, recycle” systems;
  • Corporatize water utilities;
  • Invest in better sanitation;
  • Mobilize rural communities for equitable and just access to water and sanitation;
  • Embrace the challenge of the water-food-energy nexus;
  • Start managing groundwater as a valuable and limited resource;
  • Revitalize irrigation institutions and transform irrigation services;
  • Make IWRM a priority;
  • Mobilize additional resources to clean up rivers;
  • Implement integrated structural and non-structural approaches for disaster risk management;
  • Create insurance mechanisms to minimize reliance on disaster relief;
  • Revisit the institutional arrangements for water management.
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