Speech by ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management Bindu N. Lohani on 13 March 2013 at the opening of Asia Water Week 2013.


Good Morning. Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to ADB Headquarters for the Asian Water Week 2013. I am particularly pleased to see the strong participation by representatives of government, corporate sector, civil society, knowledge partners, and youth. We are looking forward to fruitful discussions on future directions to Secure Water for All.

Water Security

Our theme for Asia Water Week is Securing Water for All. Although Asia continues to show remarkable development and poverty reduction, and the role of Asia in the global economy has significantly increased, water security is becoming an issue of concern, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, most of the industries that are driving the economic growth of the region require reliable supplies of freshwater for some part of their production cycle.

Secondly, the regions expanding populations need more water for drinking, for personal hygiene and for food and fiber production, which are the largest consumer of water.

Thirdly, expanding industrializing economies and urbanized populations demand increased energy supplies, which in turn rely on access to water.

Balancing these, often competing demands, will require better planning and management of water resource allocation, creation of efficient and responsive service providers, and engagement with a broader set of water stakeholders.

The UN statistics tell us that the world has met the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) drinking water target ahead of the 2015 schedule; and the countries of the Asia and Pacific region have been successful in reducing the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. In the 20 years, 1990 to 2010, an additional 1.7 billion people in the region have gained access to safe water. But more than 65% of the region's people still do not have a safe, secure water supply piped to the house. We need to find ways to work with utilities, both public and private sector, and civil society organizations to accelerate the expansion of these vital services to the millions still not served.

The slow progress on the MDG goal of halving the proportion without access to improved sanitation is of great concern. This target will not be achieved by 2015. Over 1.7 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation. Continued efforts to increase access to improved sanitation will be required in both rural and urban areas.

The region needs to invest $59 billion in improved water supply and $71 billion for improved sanitation in the coming years.

In cities and towns across Asia, only about 20% of urban wastewater is treated. 80% of wastewater is discharged untreated to rivers, lakes and wetlands with adverse impacts on human health and also the health of the ecosystems of our water ways. These discharges also adversely impact the cost of downstream use of water.

As communities and individuals become wealthier, the demand for better protection of the environment and ecosystems increases. With 80% of the rivers in Asia being categorized as being in “poor health” reducing water pollution must be seen as one of the most urgent challenges for water security in the region.

These issues give a strong indication that the management of the region's water resources and the provision of water services are continuing to fall short of what is required for the people of Asia and the Pacific to enjoy a water secure future.

Water related risks are not restricted to water supply, sanitation and water use in economic activities. We have seen in recent years the devastating impacts of floods and droughts on peoples' lives and livelihoods, as well as far reaching impacts on supply chains that now extend globally. The floods in Pakistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Philippines and the People's Republic of China have been a sharp wake-up call to governments and development agencies, including ADB. In 2011 alone, flood damage was estimated at over $61 billion. At ADB we are developing new strategies and financial products to assist countries increase their preparedness for water related hazards and to enable faster recovery when disasters do occur.

Growing populations, changing diets and urbanization are placing new demands on food security. Agriculture is the largest consumer of water and is under increasing pressure to improve water productivity. Irrigated areas produce about 57% of the regions food on about 27% of the farmed area. Expansion of cities, towns and industrial areas is reducing available farm land, at the same time as food demand is increasing and many young people are leaving farming. These changes will drive transformations in the provision of irrigation and drainage services if they are respond to changes in farming systems, increased farm sizes, mechanization and advanced production systems, already being seen in some countries.

2013 is the International Year of Water Cooperation. The water crisis experienced in many countries of the region, the rising uncertainty due to increasing climate variability and change, and the unprecedented rate of urbanization, are transforming societies and placing new stresses on water systems. The need for cooperation among all sectors of society for inclusive growth in Asia and the Pacific has never been greater. I am pleased to observe that new water partnerships emerging, reflected by increased participation of the private sector, civil society groups and young people at Asian Water Week. These initiatives are opening new ways for ADB to address water sector developments with our clients, by engaging with new stakeholders to promote novel solutions.

Water is must undoubtedly be recognized as a potential binding constraint on sustainable economic growth. More than 1,000 people applied to participate at Asian Water Week 2013 indicating that water is a serious concern. I am pleased to note that more than 650 are joining the sessions over the next days. The outcomes of your discussions will help ADB to focus water sector investments. I do encourage you to be frank in your discussions during these three days.

ADB currently invests about $ 2 billion per year in water-related projects. The sessions are focused on the three streams of the ADB Water Operational Plan 2011-2020 and reflect our commitment to expand partnerships with civil society, the private sector, knowledge and financing partners, and youth. Your deliberations will guide how we work together to bring about measurable improvements in water security for all.

Asia Water Development Outlook 2013

And it is the measurement of water security that I turn to now. I am pleased to launch the second edition of the Asian Water Development Outlook. This flag-ship report, commissioned by ADB and the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, presents the result of several years of research by leading organizations in the region and ADB staff. It offers the first quantitative assessment of water security for the countries of Asia and the Pacific.

The Asian Water Development Outlook assesses water security in five dimensions and makes recommendations to leaders of finance, planning, and water agencies on steps that will increase water security. The analysis shows that most countries in the region will still need to make substantial investments if they are provide their populations with sustainable water security.

I encourage you to consider the key messages of AWDO in your discussions during Asian Water Week and in your work to increase water security in your country. Increasing water security will require mobilization of new levels of cooperation among all economic sectors and sections of society. AWDO highlights the need to “break institutional silos”. We believe that investments in smart solutions and capacity development will increase water security for rural enterprises and communities, for cities and towns, and for ecosystems.

In a few minutes we will see show a short video on AWDO after which I will present copies of AWDO 2013 to the Vice Chairs of the Asia Pacific Water Forum.

Ladies and gentlemen:

In the next days, you will discuss many aspects of water security and the steps required to create a water secure future for the peoples of Asia and the Pacific. We will gain greatly from your insights and advice on how ADB and our development partners should focus investments to help ensure equitable and secure access to water. We see this as an essential foundation for sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Ladies and gentlemen, increasing water security is an urgent imperative for our work now, and in the decades ahead.

Thank You.


    Lohani, Bindu
    Former Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development