Water for All

Water is one of our most precious resources, but it is threatened by growth, misuse, and pollution. In Asia and the Pacific, many countries are in a water crisis and the demand for water is huge and growing.

"Water for All" is ADB's vision and policy for Asia and the Pacific. ADB's Water Financing Program works to increase investments and support reforms in cities, rural communities, and river basins.

Asia’s growing water crisis

Growing populations, rapid urbanization, and competing demand for water for agriculture, energy, industrial, and domestic use  have left water stocks in many countries in a critical state.

Annual per capita water supplies have been declining at alarming rates, with some parts of Asia and the Pacific already below 1,000 cubic meters per capita per year. The gap between demand and supply is widening. At an aggregate level, it is forecast to get steadily worse, indicating increasing water shortages. This gap will lead to increased competition between water users—farmers, energy producers, households, and businesses—urging a shift in water use and water governance. Climate change will worsen the demand–supply position.

Around 80% of Asia’s water is used to irrigate crops, but much of it is used inefficiently, while many of the Asia and the Pacific’s most water-stressed countries lose large volumes of treated water through leakage in urban water supply systems. It is estimated that the Asia-Pacific region loses as much as 29 billion cubic meters of treated water a year, conservatively valued at $9 billion.

Meanwhile, as the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fast approaches, countries clamor to reach the water target. Progress on drinking water in Asia has generally been on track, although issues of intermittent service, low pressure, and questionable water quality still need attention. Sanitation progress is off track, with almost 1.7 billion people in Asia still lacking access to improved sanitation. In large parts of Asia and the Pacific, more than 80% of the volume of untreated wastewater leaches into accessible freshwaters and coastal waters. Public health consequences are significantly affecting lives, livelihoods, and productivity.

Investments in water are crucial in meeting broader MDG targets, such as halving the incidence of poverty, halving the proportion of the world's poor who suffer from hunger, and reducing child and maternal mortality, among others. The Asia and Pacific region needs integrated, cross-sectoral approaches to water management and development.

Policy and investment response

Amidst the water challenges faced by Asia and the Pacific, ADB formulated its Water for All policy and vision in 2001 and established the Cooperation Fund for the Water Sector (CFWS) to initiate the policy’s implementation.

The policy seeks to promote water resources management to sustain economic growth and involve the poor in water conservation and management. Under the Water for All vision, the CFWS financed activities that

  • Raised awareness on water issues and challenges in the region and the urgent need to address them
  • Expanded knowledge of water sector issues and challenges through various comparative research studies and analyses
  • Tested innovative water project ideas on a small scale through a series of pilot and demonstration activities for scaling up and replication
  • Established water partnerships and networks with and among water utilities, knowledge and advocacy-based agencies, and river basin organizations toward stronger regional cooperation

Initial results of the water policy’s implementation from 2001-2005 recognized that ADB's investments in water projects have been modest and unpredictable. It averaged US$790 million a year from 1990-2005, and ranged from US$330 million in 2004 to US$1.4 billion in 2005. The study "Asia Water Watch 2015," released in 2005 pegged the needed water investments for Asia and the Pacific at $8 billion dollars annually to achieve the MDGs on their deadline.

As a response, ADB launched the Water Financing Program (WFP) in 2006, aimed at doubling ADB’s investments to over $2.0 billion annually during the period 2006-2010 or a total of $10 billion by the end of 2010. The Program has now been continued until 2020 with target investments to be sustained at $2.0 billion-$2.5 billion annually or a total of over $20-25 billion by the end of 2020. To support the WFP implementation, ADB established the Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF), also in 2006. The WFPF has mobilized financial and knowledge resources from financing partners to achieve the following target outputs of the Program:

  • Increased investments through support for the preparation of additional projects in rural, urban, and basin water
  • Accelerated policy and institutional reforms through initiatives that enhance policy and regulations, strengthen coordination mechanisms, promote regional cooperation, and engage civil society
  • Expanded knowledge base and improved capacity, through pilot and demonstration projects, capacity building interventions targeted at key water sector organizations, knowledge products development, knowledge partnerships and networking

By December 2010, the WFP has delivered $11.44 billion in investments, exceeding the $10 billion target. Approvals for water loans in 2011 totaled $2.33 billion.

Water blueprint for Asia’s future

While the MDGs deadline fast approaches, ADB is currently working to ensure momentum and continuity of water developments in the Asia-Pacific region and has started looking beyond 2015.

ADB's new Water Operational Plan 2011-2020 identifies priority actions that ADB should immediately embark on, including the mobilization of additional resources to replenish the WFPF and ensuring that it will be able to support the continuation of the WFP until 2020. The Plan is driven by three core elements:

  • Deepening and expanding analytical work to improve the informational basis for sound and timely decision making.
  • Advancing inclusive policy reforms that facilitate greater efficiency in water use, expanded sanitation coverage and wastewater treatment and reuse, and tightened link of water to food and energy
  • Strengthening support to priority programs and projects and sustaining annual public investment levels at $2–2.5 annually during the period 2011–2020 or a total of $20–25 billion by the end of 2020, plus attracting much more private sector investment and expertise to accelerate results.

The Plan is ADB’s blueprint for a water secure and sustainable future for Asia and the Pacific.