Despite achievements in Asia and the Pacific, 1.5 billion people in rural areas and 600 million more in urban areas still lack adequate water supply and sanitation. Sound water management and access to reliable service delivery remain vital to inclusive economic growth and social well-being.
Neeta Pokhrel, Director of ADB's Water and Urban Development Sector Office, discusses water challenges in developing Asia and how ADB is helping through financing and knowledge sharing.
Access to safely managed water supply and sanitation services remains a huge challenge in the region. An estimated 500 million people in Asia and the Pacific do not have access to a basic water supply, and 1.14 billion people lack access to sanitation, according to data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP).
Climate change, population increase, and urbanization are among the key factors that negatively influence water security. According to the 2020 World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life are a key driver of water scarcity. The failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation is another major risk, the report adds.
Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse resulting in severely depleted resources are also major drivers of water scarcity. Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and geomagnetic storms, along with human-made environmental damage, such as oil spills, also lead to serious water shortages.
Around 70% of freshwater resources is still utilized for agricultural purposes. One of the main issues is that irrigation systems in agriculture are often very inefficient, which contributes to high levels of freshwater consumption. This includes the use of old irrigation technologies instead of state-of-the-art, effective drip irrigation, or the use of treated wastewater for irrigation. Furthermore, the excessive use of groundwater for irrigation has negative consequences on groundwater levels, especially in countries in South Asia.
According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program 2021 assessment, over half a billion people in East Asia and the Pacific have gained access to basic drinking water services since 2000. Similarly, almost a billion people in the region have gained access to safely managed sanitation services. At current rates of progress, near universal access to basic drinking water in East Asia and the Pacific will be achieved by 2030.
However, progress on safely managed sanitation is lagging, and no country in the region is currently on track to achieve this. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Kiribati are making the least progress towards almost all indicators. The People’s Republic of China, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Viet Nam have achieved relatively high coverage through good progress over the past 20 years.
The most cost-effective way is promoting water conservation, and more efficient water use. If water supply lost from leakage can be captured, this is often much more cost-effective than developing new water sources. Water tariffs that reflect the actual cost of service delivery while ensuring access for poor households, can also promote more efficient water use. When water tariffs are kept too low, water wastage often results.
To reduce water-related risks, investing in early warning systems also provides a significant return on investment. Early warning systems help people receive timely information prior to a disaster so they can make informed decisions and take action. For example, prior to a flood, early warning means people have time to reach evacuation centers and secure property.
Asia and the Pacific is the most disaster-affected region in the world and is home to more than 40% of the globe’s calamities and 84% of the people they affect. Water is the primary medium through which the effects of climate change are felt. Due to climate change, the frequency and magnitude of natural hazards are increasing, with unprecedented effects on local populations, the environment, and economies.
Resilient water and sanitation management has become extremely urgent and central to climate adaptation. Innovative approaches aligned with broader water security and resilience goals are required to tackle these challenges. ADB’s Asia and the Pacific Water Resilience Hub helps the bank focus on the urgency of achieving water security and resilience.
An exemplary ADB water project is the West Bengal Drinking Water Sector Improvement Project in India. The project will provide safe and sustainable drinking water to over 1.65 million people affected by arsenic, fluoride, and salinity in parts of Bankura, North 24 Parganas, and Purba Medinipur districts of West Bengal. The project will also introduce advanced technology for smart water management to enable efficient service delivery in project districts.
ADB’s lending in the water sector has steadily increased over the years and currently stands at $3.1bn for 2022. The total 2011-22 water sector portfolio is around $26.6 billion, directly supporting water security and resilience for at least 650 million people in Asia and the Pacific.
The ADB is effectively applying its lending and grant products and programs, as well as technical assistance, to support the water sector in the region. ADB has also made a clear commitment to increasing private sector investment in the water sector. This is being done by applying blended finance approaches in ADB’s projects and programs.