Keynote Address at the 14th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit - Takehiko Nakao

Speech | 6 February 2014

Keynote address by ADB President Takehiko Nakao at the 14th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, "The Role of Water Management in Addressing the Water-Food-Energy Nexus", on 6 February 2014 in New Delhi, India (as delivered).


Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: It is my pleasure to join you today to discuss water-food-energy security. I thank Dr. Pachauri and his colleagues at TERI, The Energy and Resources Institute, for bringing us together for this timely summit.

Sustainable development has been the core business of ADB since its inception in 1966. And it remains our guiding principle in working toward an Asia and Pacific free of poverty. The theme of this summit, "Attaining Energy, Water, and Food Security for All," is one of the most complex development issues we have ever faced. Solving this challenge is increasingly critical.

This morning, I will discuss the role of water management as a foundation of achieving food and energy security, and look at the interlinkages or nexus between water, food and energy.

Water security: The foundation of food and energy security

As we frequently see in the daily headlines, water security matters far beyond its sector boundaries. In partnership with the Asia-Pacific Water Forum and regional research centers, ADB has developed a practical cross-cutting definition of water security.

"Societies enjoy water security when they successfully manage their water resources to

  • satisfy household water and sanitation needs;
  • support agriculture, industry and energy;
  • sustain livable cities;
  • maintain healthy rivers; and
  • protect communities from floods and droughts".

However, ADB's Asian Water Development Outlook 2013 found that 36 out of 48 regional member countries in Asia and the Pacific, including India and the People's Republic of China, have poor water security. Some already face imminent water crises that threaten their food and energy security.

Water resource is finite. In many river basins, constructing new dams or pump stations is no longer an option because the water is already fully utilized. Choices have become tougher, the options more limited, and the timing more urgent.

The water-food-energy nexus highlights issues around these difficult decisions. River basin managers need to ensure efficient water use and carefully weigh the trade-offs between uses such as agriculture, industry and energy production. They must find ways to provide the right amount of water of the right quality where it is best used. For achieving this, improving access to better information; adopting transparent and inclusive decision processes; and investing in new technologies are required.

Water and food

Now, I would like to look at the nexus of water and food security more specifically.  Demand for water in Asia is expected to skyrocket over the coming decades. And, as 80 percent of water use is for agriculture, water shortages will lead directly to food shortages.  

Against this backdrop, we must realize that food wasted is also water and energy wasted.

Maintaining food security is essential for sustaining economic advances and social stability. The recurrent spikes in food prices since 2008 have been a sharp wake-up call. Both water and agricultural land are limited and, in many places, industrialization and urbanization are reducing availability for agriculture.

At the same time, new technologies are creating opportunities for farmers to use water more productively and achieve "more crop per drop." Support for research and knowledge sharing is increasing. Irrigation control systems are being modernized. Adoption of advanced field techniques, such as drip irrigation and precision land leveling, are saving water. More efficient transport, market infrastructure and systems are helping to reduce food waste during distribution—and boost farmers' incomes. And more efficient "field-to-plate" supply chains are being adopted to reduce loss of food after harvest.  Perhaps in classrooms, especially in the advanced societies, we should more seriously teach our children the culture of not wasting food.

ADB's work with the Karnataka state government in the Krishna basin is a good example. An inclusive approach is combining participatory river basin planning and stronger policies with efforts to modernize irrigation canals. Farmers are learning water saving techniques and forming water user associations. Millions of cubic meters of water will be saved and used to irrigate additional land, benefitting up to 1.5 million people.

Water and energy

I will now turn to the second area - nexus of water and energy. Water is needed for energy. The anticipated dramatic escalation in our region's energy needs will squeeze already scarce water resources. At the same time, we must keep in mind that the energy is required for water uses, too, for water pumping and treatment.

Let's first look at water for energy.

Hydroelectric is an important source of power generation. Good practices in water management should be incorporated in hydropower projects. These good practices will ensure adequate flow to meet the needs of downstream communities, prevent river bank erosion, and protect river basins. ADB is also supporting run-of-river hydropower schemes without large dams, where appropriate, because they have fewer social and environmental impacts.

Contrary to the perception of many people, traditional thermal power plants also require large quantities of water for cooling. ADB is investing in projects to improve water efficiency in generating thermal power. Existing power plants are being rehabilitated to capture cooling water, treat and reuse it. Plants in Bangladesh provide a good example.

We must also consider energy for water in three key areas: agriculture, water utilities and sanitation.

In agriculture, the availability of low-cost pumps and poor irrigation services has led many farmers to increase their reliance on ground water.

This has increased crop production and farmers income. But there are costs: most notably increased energy demand for pumping and unsustainable rates of groundwater use. To combat these trends, ADB is encouraging sustainable groundwater use through improved irrigation technologies.

In the case of utilities, the energy used for pumping water makes up a large proportion of the cost of supplying municipal water. ADB is working with utilities to reduce water losses and also to introduce more energy efficient motors.

For example, ADB provided a grant to improve energy efficiency in Ho Chi Minh City's water supply system by upgrading the pumps. In India, ADB approved multi- year loans amounting $400 million for replacing outdated pumps and pipes of Kolkata water supply system.

For sanitation, ADB is working with sovereign and private clients to improve the efficiency of wastewater treatment processes. But, water treatment requires energy. Some 80% of the region's wastewater currently receives little or no treatment. This causes widespread pollution. Treated wastewater is a valuable resource for maintaining river flows and for industrial and agricultural use—but requires energy. Our work with a private enterprise in the People's Republic of China provides an example of what can be done. Upgrading wastewater treatment plants will enable the reuse of 20 percent of the country's wastewater by 2023.

Thinking differently about water, food and energy security

Let me turn now to my final topic, the importance of thinking differently about water security and its nexus with food and energy. I will make three points on how to move forward.

First, managing water resources independently by each sector must stop.  As we will hear during this summit, different sectors have approached the water-food-energy nexus from their own perspectives. The lack of a coordinated approach has led to the difficult situation.

Second, inappropriate pricing of water or energy, or both, provides perverse incentives. This has resulted in unrestricted growth in water demand, energy consumption and inefficient water use. A clear example is the unsustainable over-extraction of groundwater due to subsidized energy prices for pumping. This practice threatens agricultural sustainability on large tracts of land and also disrupts power supply to other users. These distortions must disappear.

Third, we believe river basin organizations are a key to resolving competition between uses including, most importantly, food and energy production. ADB is working with basin organizations to facilitate basin planning, encourage collaborative water resources management, and develop human and institutional capacity to improve governance of water. Fresh institutional arrangements, better data and information, innovative technologies, and updated skill-sets are being created. Through these actions, ADB is helping improve water security for over 400 million people in some 30 river basins.


In closing, I would like to emphasize that business-as-usual will not achieve water, food and energy security. We need to raise awareness that food wasted is water and energy wasted. And that water wasted is often energy wasted. We need to think differently about water and its uses for food and energy production—and take action.

Attaining "Energy, Water, and Food Security for All" is a difficult challenge. Many countries in the region are, or will soon be, facing difficult decisions about how to ensure water, food and energy security for their population. The challenges are about appropriate allocation, efficient use, investment for the future and innovations. Overcoming these challenges will call for leadership from the highest levels of governments and active participation of the private sector and communities.

Thank you.