In Focus

 
Published: Wednesday 15 January 1997

Parched and thirsty. A more gloomier scenario could not have been predicted for Asian countries in the coming years by the World Bank (WB). And this is in spite of the periodic floods that visit unfortunate shores in China, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and elsewhere.

Water supplies in Asia, earlier in plenty, have become scarce due to rapid industrial expansion, rising standards of living and growing populations. A break-up of several Asian countries foresees drought-like conditions for most. A recent WB study states that "water supplies in China are being siphoned away from farmlands surrounding Beijing in order to meet rising urban and industrial demands. With 300 Chinese cities now short of water, this shift is bound to become more pronounced."

Another report from the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines warns that water scarcity could become a cause for social unrest. "Projections suggest that most Asian countries will have severe water problems by the year 2025."

In Indonesia, the municipal water supply department promises to deliver water that is not murky but does guarantee its safety potential. Seventy-three per cent of Jakarta's wells are contaminated by human waste and ammonia and another 13 per cent contain heavy metals like mercury, according to a study conducted by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. In Manila, Philippines, the public works secretary, Gregorio Vigilar maintains that drinking water supplies could last only for another five years unless more homes are linked to proper sewerage channels. Singapore buys most of its water from neighbouring Malaysia and worries abound that as Malaysia continues to industrialise, water contracts may not be honoured, leading to a water shortage in Singapore.

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