Key Takeaways

The Asia and the Pacific region’s economy is the fastest growing in the world—a dynamism that is also reflected in advances in the region’s water sector over the past two decades. The Republic of Korea, Japan and Singapore are global water technology leaders. Singapore can now meet up to 40% of its water demand through recycled water. Much of Metro Manila, a sprawling metropolis of 12 million people, receives a potable 24-hour water supply provided through successful public-private partnerships. The People’s Republic of China is promoting the development of “sponge cities,” where green infrastructure such as trees, lakes, and parks have been used to soak up rainfall and address flooding in more than 30 cities. 

Despite these positive developments,   almost 500 million people in the Asia and Pacific region do not have access to at least basic water supplies, while 1.14 billion lack access to basic sanitation. As populations increasingly flow to the cities—2.5 billion or 55% of the population will live in Asia’s urban areas by 2030—water demand is projected to increase by about 55%. Meanwhile, agriculture, which accounts for 70% of Asia’s freshwater consumption, will need to produce much more food for the growing population, thus competing for diminishing water resources.

Adding to the pressure, water quality in Asia has deteriorated significantly. In the 20 years between 1990 and 2010 pollution rose by 50% in major rivers while salinity rose in more than one third. Some 80% of wastewater is discharged into water bodies without treatment.

“Poor water quality contaminates water sources, at great cost to health, and in the process holds back human potential and economic progress as well as affecting food production,” says Chief of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Water Sector Group Neeta Pokhrel. “Continued efforts are needed to address the root causes of water insecurity across all of its various dimensions.”

Resilient water management is central to achieving climate adaptation, managing and better preparing for natural and public health threats, and addressing water scarcity issues amid rapid population and economic growth in the region.

Bruno Carrasco
Director General, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB

Water security concept

To quantify water security in Asia and Pacific, ADB developed a framework with five interdependent key dimensions in its flagship publication, the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO). The vision for water security is built on five concepts: societies can enjoy water security when they successfully manage their water resources and services to satisfy rural household water and sanitation needs in all communities; support productive economies in agriculture, industry, and energy; develop vibrant, livable cities and towns; restore healthy rivers and ecosystems; and (build resilient communities that can cope with water-related extreme events.

The region’s frequent disasters pose another threat to water security.   In the past decade, an estimated 31,000 people in ADB’s developing member countries have died as a result of floods, while 4.9 million have been rendered homeless. Overlaying these pressures are the risks communities, businesses, and service providers face from climate change, both slow-onset changes and the greater frequency and intensity of extremes.

“Resilient water management is central to achieving climate adaptation, managing and better preparing for natural and public health threats, and addressing water scarcity issues amid rapid population and economic growth in the region,” says Director General of ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Bruno Carrasco.

Improving trend

However, the news is not totally bleak. According to ADB’s 2020 AWDO, the general trend is of improved water security, particularly in East Asia and Southeast Asia. But 22 countries out of the 49 surveyed remain in the lower two “insecure” categories of the five-band national water security index. This represents more than 2 billion people or about half of the regions’ population. Under its Strategy 2030,   ADB seeks to build a resilient and water secure Asia and Pacific, with a growing portfolio, expected to be about $4 billion annually based on its water sector plans for 2021–2023.

In addition to infrastructure investments, grants and technical assistance, ADB seeks to enhance the awareness and capacities of those working in the water sector through knowledge sharing events such as the Asia Water Forum 2022 (AWF 2022), tools, trainings, focused publications and capacity building hubs, including the upcoming Asia Pacific Water Resilience Hub.

Asia Water Forum (AWF) 2022

Taking place on 8-11 August, AWF 2022 focuses on the theme of “resilient and water-secure Asia and Pacific.” “The forum provides a platform for sharing experience on water information, innovation, and technology across the region,” adds Ms. Pokhrel. “It will discuss innovations that can best address the requirements for a resilient and water-secure Asia and the Pacific, and to keep the profile of water high on the region’s development agenda.”

Participants will be drawn from ADB developing member countries, water utilities, development partners, private sector, water-related organizations, research and academia, civil society, and other stakeholder groups.

The forum will also feature the launch of the Asia and the Pacific Water Resilience Hub. An open platform dedicated to strengthening water security in the region, the Hub will establish partnerships, provide training opportunities, and develop and share knowledge, innovative methods, tools, data, and digital technologies. It will enable countries and water entities across the region to better weather and prepare for natural hazards, climate change, water insecurity, and social and economic crises. ADB will also release its Guidance Note on Mainstreaming Water Resilience in Asia and the Pacific, which features six pillars to support the operationalization of resilience in water sector operations, planning, and policies.

This article was prepared by ADB Principal Communications Specialist Graham Dwyer.