Stockholm World Water Week: The Water-Food-Energy Nexus

Feature | 24 August 2012

The Stockholm World Water Week has built up a reputation as a forum for frank exchange of views and learning between researchers, policy makers, practitioners, and donors since 1991.

This year's event, which focuses on water and food production, will again see the participation of ADB experts contributing to the debate. ADB.org talks to Wouter Lincklaen Arriens, Lead Water Resources Specialist at ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department, to find out what ADB is doing to help its members address the main challenges impacting water security in the region.

Can you briefly sum up the intersecting challenges of water management and sustainable food security in Asia and the Pacific?

There are three main challenges. First, water availability has become a serious constraint to sustainable food security in Asia in terms of its quantity and timing to meet the needs of farmers. Increasing competition over water and changing weather regimes influenced by climate change are causing frequent water shortages. Poor water quality in urban areas has become an issue for food safety, for example in the irrigation of vegetables.

Second, a prolonged period of low public investments in irrigation has resulted in poor service to farmers, which in turn is demotivating farmers from making their own investments in agricultural inputs.

Third, trends like the average farm size getting smaller, the average age of farmers increasing, and labor seeking income opportunities away from farming are not conducive to achieving higher food security.

How important is raising the level of efficiency of water use across Asia and the Pacific?

The important issue is how to increase water productivity in agriculture, particularly in South Asia. While other developing regions in the world still have excess land available to expand agricultural production, Asia has little room for expansion. Therefore, there is little choice but to generate such increases from its available land and water resources, which are already under pressure. Increasing productivity is an imperative in Asia, even after the tremendous gains achieved in earlier decades through the green revolution.

ADB is helping its clients in three main areas:

  • revitalize irrigation to help unlock productivity gains;
  • shift the governance of water management in agriculture to a service-oriented approach, with more autonomy and accountability for the irrigation service provider and farmer organizations; and
  • invest in the upgrading of irrigation infrastructure, including the use of modern, smarter technologies.

How do changes in environment, urbanization, and food demand make a significant impact in the evolving issues of water management?

All of these issues impact on water security in the region. To start with, 80% of Asia's rivers are in poor health. The unprecedented scale of urbanization is leading to the rapid conversion of the region's most fertile agricultural lands into highways, urban subdivisions and industrial estates. Population growth has caused an average 70% reduction in per capita water endowments since 1950, and Asia's economic growth has also spurred dietary changes, such as higher consumption of meat, which requires more water than traditional diets.

ADB's Water Operational Plan seeks to tackle these issues with a more integrated approach building synergies between water uses in cities, agricultural areas, and environmental ecosystems, supported by demand management and higher efficiencies.

Can you tell us about the forthcoming publication the Asia Water Development Outlook? How will it benefit the region?

The Asian Water Development Outlook 2012 will for the first time show the status of water security in all Asia-Pacific economies expressed in a quantitative manner. It will also provide recommendations about the policy levers Asia's leaders can use to increase water security. We have been working with ten leading knowledge institutions in the region to produce this Outlook.


Wouter T. Lincklaen Arriens has coordinated ADB's work to support its member countries in improving water governance through policies, sector reforms, investment projects, capacity development, and regional cooperation since 1994, and serves as a spokesperson for ADB's water work. He led the preparation of ADB's Water Financing Program and Water Financing Partnership Facility to increase investments in rural and urban water services and river basin management in the Asia-Pacific region.


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