Asia-Pacific still most vulnerable to water insecurity

According to the ADB report, the number of countries assessed as water insecure has dropped to 29 as compared to 38 in 2013

By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Wednesday 31 August 2016

According to the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, more than 90 per cent of the people in Asia and the Pacific are without water security
Credit: james j8246/Flickr

Despite achievements made in the water security front in Asia and the Pacific in the past five years, key challenges remain. Major problems include overexploitation of groundwater, increasing demand from rising population and climate variability, a new report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) says.

Source: J. Margat and J. van der Gun. 2013. Groundwater around the World. Leiden, Netherlands: CRC Press/Balkema

Source: AWDO 2016

The new edition of the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) 2016 released Tuesday at the World Water Week in Stockholm provides a snapshot of the water status of 48 countries in the region.

According to the report, the number of countries assessed as water insecure has dropped to 29 as compared to 38 (out of 49 countries) in the previous report published in 2013.

“Asia and the Pacific remains the world’s most vulnerable region to water insecurity and cannot sustain its recent economic growth without addressing this issue,” ADB vice-president for knowledge management and sustainable development Bambang Susantono said.

According to the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, more than 90 per cent of the people in Asia and the Pacific are without water security. While access to fresh water is still difficult for an estimated 1.7 billion people today, to produce more food for the future, agriculture will also need much more water despite the region’s limited supply.

The ADB report points out the following staggering facts:

  • Water for agriculture continues to consume 80 per cent of water resources in Asia and the Pacific
  • With a predicted population of 5.2 billion by 2050 and 22 megacities by 2030, the region’s finite water resources will be under enormous pressure
  • Recent estimates indicate up to 3.4 billion people could be living in water-stressed areas of Asia by 2050
  • Water demand is projected to increase by 55 per cent in the region by 2050 due to growing demand from the domestic and industrial sectors

AWDO assessed water security under five key dimensions—household access, economic viability, urban services, restoring rivers and ecosystems and resilience to water-related disasters.

As water security and gross domestic product are closely related, the report shows the importance of water as a critical input for sustained economic growth. AWDO shows that there is a widening gap between rural and urban areas with respect to access to water supply and sanitation. Sustainable Development Goal 6 lays stress on sanitation and clean water access for all by 2030.

The parameters

In terms of household access to piped potable water and improved sanitation, the water security score in Asia and the Pacific ranges from 4.5 for South Asia to 20.0 for the advanced economies on a 20-point scale.

All parts of the region improved their performance by about two points since 2013, except for the Pacific islands. South Asian countries need to make considerable efforts to improve their performance under this dimension.

Under the economic water security dimension, changes made since 2013 have been positive with the advanced countries again showing the highest scores and the Pacific islands lagging behind.

In terms of urban water security, East Asia has shown positive progress while South and Southeast Asia still have some way to go, particularly Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines. Nearly half of the economies have piped water supply levels higher than 85 per cent, but less than 50 per cent of the urban population has access to improved sanitation. In many areas, wastewater is discharged into the environment without little or no treatment.

The Pacific island countries scored highly under the fourth dimension of managing river basins. Declining river health is evident in Bangladesh, the lower Yangtze River Basin, Nepal, and the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam, the report adds.

Under resilience to water-related disasters, many Asia and the Pacific countries showed weak performance. Between 1995 and 2015, there were some 2,495 water-related disasters striking Asia, killing 332,000 people and affecting a further 3.7 billion. South Asia showed the lowest resilience score, but several other countries showed strong improvement since 2013. These included Pakistan; the Philippines and Taipei, China.

Increasing water demand cannot be met by simply developing new water sources, the report says. It requires better water management and more productive use of existing resources. “There is a strong relationship between water management and the economy, and investments in good water management can be considered as a longer term payback for increased growth and poverty reduction,” the report adds.

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