MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Asia's incipient water crisis must be met with a clever mix of new solutions, Arjun Thapan, Director General of the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) Southeast Asia Department, told World Water Week participants in Stockholm, Sweden. These include an aggressive business outlook, extensive use of new and emerging technologies, large-scale reuse of wastewater, going small-scale to plug gaps, and better matching irrigation systems with food security.
Mr. Thapan was speaking during "Eye on Asia," a day-long event convened by ADB in partnership with the Global Water Partnership, the International Water Association, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and the Network of Asian River Basin Organizations. The 2009 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, was among the participants from government, the private sector, civil society and academe.
"Asia's water security is being challenged, paradoxically, by its own successes. The continent's impressive growth in recent times has brought rapid urbanization, high rates of industrialization, and higher incomes in its wake. These have put huge pressures on Asia's ability to manage its water resources," said Mr. Thapan. "Our focus on solutions has been too narrow, and this has compromised poverty reduction efforts, productivity and growth."
While many countries are on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation there are question marks over the equity and quality of services, and many sector organizations suffer from chronic mismanagement and poor governance. Financing remains an issue mainly because poor performance attracts little money.
To plug service gaps, new small-scale piped water companies have begun to fill a key role in Asia's service-strained cities. Participants at "Eye on Asia" also discussed new solutions for sanitation with an official from Manila Water outlining the company's plans to spend about $1 billion to extend sanitation coverage to its entire concession area by 2030. Studies have shown that for each $1 of investment made in sanitation there is the potential to yield returns from $3 to $34.
Improving the management of Asia's critically important river basins in order to conserve water and improve river environments was another key topic on the agenda, with participants debating how the region can finance the costs of responding to climate change. Events such as increased rainfall variability and a rising sea level pose a serious threat to water and agriculture, and ADB estimates about $15 billion is needed to finance regional adaptation measures alone over the next 10 years.
To support its water and sanitation program, ADB set up the Water Financing Partnership Facility in 2006 to mobilize cofinancing from development partners. As of December 2008 it has received contributions from the governments of Australia, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain totaling $43 million.
World Water Week - which this year runs from 16-22 August - is an annual event for sharing and disseminating information and for discussing key water issues.