Leadership for Water Security in Asia and the Pacific

Statement by ADB President Takehiko Nakao on 20 May 2013 at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Introduction

Honorable Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, President of the Asia-Pacific Water Forum Yoshiro Mori, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: It is my pleasure to join you today to discuss water security. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for her vision and the excellent arrangements for the Summit.

I believe Asia and the Pacific must focus on innovation, inclusiveness, and integration as key means to achieving sustainable development. These three “Is” can be applied to solving many of our development challenges, including achieving water security.

Without water security, our region’s continued prosperity may be in jeopardy. This is according to the Asian Water Development Outlook 2013, produced by ADB and the Asia-Pacific Water Forum.

The Outlook takes a first-of-its-kind approach by presenting the progress of water security in the region. The statistics are alarming. More than 60% of households live without safe, piped water supply and decent sanitation. In South Asia, as little as 22% of wastewater discharge is treated. And 80% of Asia’s rivers are in poor health. This imperils our freshwater resources and threatens annually up to $1.75 trillion in ecosystem services, such as agricultural and fisheries production, and environmental and biodiversity benefits. This situation is simply untenable. I urge the heads of states and ministers to act now in ways that meet the needs of all segments of society.

Water security solutions

The Outlook also offers solutions that are potentially relevant to all of us. I will now highlight four major areas requiring urgent action to promote water security.

First, Asia’s cities must become more innovative and inclusive in reducing water use, and reusing and recycling precious water resources. Many countries need to increase – or even double – investment in sanitation and wastewater management. Viet Nam, for example, has been making progress in this area. ADB has helped by financing 9 water and urban environment projects in Viet Nam since 2006. These projects, worth about half a billion dollars, have improved the lives of an estimated 8.5 million people. They have improved wastewater management and reduced water leakage by up to 70%.

Second, we need to find innovative ways to grow more food using less water to achieve "more crop per drop." More efficient irrigation services, increased support for research and knowledge sharing, and new practices for saving water are crucial to achieve this. In India, ADB is working with the Karnataka State government to increase water use efficiency in the Krishna basin. An inclusive approach combines participatory river basin planning and strengthened policies with efforts to modernize irrigation canals. Farmers are also being trained in water saving techniques and forming water user associations. These efforts will save 1,700 million cubic meters of water that can be used to irrigate an additional 160,000 hectares, benefiting up to 1.5 million people.

Third, we need integrated approaches to restore the health of rivers and aquatic ecosystems. These must include downstream as well as upstream communities, plus the local watershed management authorities. Protecting our water resources in the mountains, watersheds, wetlands, and groundwater is crucial. These efforts will also improve biodiversity, reduce flooding, and protect diverse livelihoods. In the People’s Republic of China, ADB is working with the government to invest in healthy rivers. For example, we are building wastewater treatment plants along the Songhua river basin. By helping settlers find alternatives to deforestation for their livelihoods, we are also protecting the watersheds. We expect over 15 million people to benefit from these efforts.

Fourth, we need to take an integrated approach to build resilience to water related disasters. Ninety percent of all people affected by flooding and droughts live in our region, with climate change intensifying the disasters. It is clear we must be better prepared. In addition to improved infrastructure, early access to reliable information is essential. For example, in Bangladesh, ADB is developing a flood warning system using public data that gives people an extra 1 to 2 days’ warning so they can seek safety. In Indonesia’s Solo river basin, we have supported community-based flood forecasting and early warning systems to alert people to flash floods so they can evacuate quickly. And in Thailand, ADB is working with the government and other partners to assess risk and prepare a disaster risk mitigation plan for the historic city of Ayutthaya.

Leadership required

Let me conclude by emphasizing that the development community can play a leading role in achieving water security in Asia and the Pacific. For instance, by 2020, ADB plans to invest $20 billion in water related infrastructure, governance and capacity development through our Water Financing Program. We aim to use these investments to leverage external sources of finance, including bilateral official sources and private sector finance. We will complement the financing by sharing knowledge on water security issues and their solutions. Together, these represent a "Finance++" model: finance plus leverage plus knowledge.

Ladies and gentlemen, innovative, inclusive, and integrated solutions for our water security challenges are available in the region. However, because so many agencies are involved and the issues complex, these solutions require leadership at the highest level of government. And that is why we are here today. Strong, diverse partnerships and good governance will deliver the best results. Empowering civil society and women leaders will add to the success. Together, with our partner organizations in the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, we can solve the water security challenges in our region.

Thank you.