SINGAPORE - Millions of people in Asia and the Pacific could have access to clean water if leaks were plugged and water utility reforms adopted, says a new study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

"While Asia and the Pacific is increasingly facing a major water crisis, we see unacceptable levels of water being lost through leaks and inefficiencies," said Bindu Lohani, ADB's Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. "By cutting the amount of lost water in half, 150 million people could be supplied with treated water."

ADB estimates that 29 billion cubic meters of water is lost each year in the region - enough to fill more than 11 million Olympic-sized swimming pools - causing Asia's water utilities to lose more than $9 billion in revenue each year.

By examining eight of the best-performing water utilities in Asia, Good Practices in Urban Water Management concludes that a low rate of unaccounted for water (UFW) is critical for efficient service delivery. While current UFW levels in the region are as high as 60%, an UFW level of less than 20% is a realizable goal. In fact, it notes that Phnom Penh managed to bring its lost water rate down to just 6% in 2008.

The study identifies seven universal themes to serve as a model for replication by water utilities: corporatization for better accountability; economic sustainability; unaccounted-for-water reduction; holistic approach to manage water resources including water supply and wastewater management; staff productivity; collaborative engagement amongst government, utilities and society; and inclusive approach to addressing the needs of the urban poor.

Asian water utilities need to show innovation to provide service to low-income households, the study says, noting that each of the eight water agencies studied provided some kind of subsidy for obtaining a water connection and, in deserving cases, for the use of water as well.

Launched today at the Singapore International Water Week, the study cites Singapore as one of the models for water management which other Asian cities can learn from. The country has a low level of lost water due to leakage, a strong government commitment for water sustainability, and is pricing water to take in the full costs of delivery and management. Its water utility, PUB, is seen as a test bed for innovative technologies.

The study, which is a collaborative effort between ADB and the Institute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, provides new insights into urban water management in the cities of Bangkok, Thailand; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Jamshedpur, India; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Manila, Philippines; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Shenzhen, People's Republic of China; and Singapore.

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