World Water Week: The Asian Agenda

Article | 31 August 2016

In Stockholm, water and sanitation experts from around the world are gathering for World Water Week to discuss problems and strategies. Asia and Pacific is one of the world’s hardest hit regions but countries are finding solutions.

Access to clean water and modern sanitation is a problem in many parts of the world, but in Asia and the Pacific it could reach crisis levels in the coming decades, according to this latest edition of the Asian Water Development Outlook.

"With a predicted population of 5.2 billion by 2050 and 22 megacities by 2030, the region’s finite water resources will be under enormous pressure—especially with increasing climate variability," the report notes. "Recent estimates indicate up to 3.4 billion people could be living in water-stressed areas of Asia by 2050."

Asia is home to half of the world’s poorest people. Water for agriculture continues to consume 80% of water resources and a staggering 1.7 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.

These issues feature prominently in discussions at World Water Week in Stockholm, where Asian Development Bank experts are joining more than 3,000 participants to discuss innovation and sustainability in the area of water and sanitation.

Throughout Asia and the Pacific, countries are working to find long-term solutions to water and sanitation problems.

In Karnataka, India, an urban and sewer system upgrade is improving people's health and making cities more livable.

In Cambodia, the Kanchan arsenic filter is improving groundwater safety in many rural areas. The technology is being used by about 15,000 rural households and promoted by the government, UNICEF, UN-Habitat, the Red Cross, and non-government organizations and private businesses.

In Nepal, water supply and sanitation has been improved in 29 urban centers along major highways. Nearly 600,000 people have benefitted from the installation of public drinking-water taps and public toilets in schools and other locations. This has reduced the risk of waterborne diseases and other health hazards.

In two of Uzbekistan's poorest provinces, Novoi and Kashkadarya, improved rural water supply and sanitation facilities, including chlorination and wastewater drainage systems, are saving lives. Health and hygiene awareness programs have also been undertaken.

In Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic, guppy fish have been introduced in water storage tanks to eat larvae that grow into mosquitoes, which in turn bite humans and transmit dengue. This resulted in a sharp decline in mosquito larvae after the tiny fish were introduced.

These efforts, as well as others, are showing concrete results. Asia and the Pacific is showing a positive trend in strengthening water security with the number of water insecure countries dropping to 29 in 2016 from 38 in 2013, according to this latest edition of the Asian Water Development Outlook.

Despite the progress, there is still a mixed picture in Asia when it comes to water and sanitation, says Tatiana Gallego-Lizón, Director of ADB’s Urban Development and Water department, in a recent blog post.

"In merely a quarter of a century, safe water supply coverage in the region has reached a startling 92%," she says. "However, progress in sanitation coverage and hygiene has not been as sizeable: only 65% of Asia’s 4.3 billion people had access to improved facilities in 2015."