Asia-Pacific boosts cooperation to ease water issues

A woman fetches water from a tap in Azerbaijan. Photo by: Allison Kwesell / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

As the drought in the Marshall Islands worsens, Asia-Pacific government, business and development leaders will meet later this week in Thailand to discuss challenges and opportunities to resolve the region’s water issues.

The Thai city of Chiang Mai will host on May 19-20 the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit on the theme “Water Security and Water-related Disaster Challenges: Leadership and Commitment.”

During the meeting organized by the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, the high-level talks will focus on new partnerships and investments to promote water-related development priorities and resolve remaining water issues in region.

“The international community can be supportive of national needs and encourage resource efficiency and disaster prevention as part of their program and funding requirements. In addition, the international community should work together and coordinate as much as possible,” an official from the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific who will be attending the event told Devex.

As several countries in the region — including the drought-stricken Marshall Islands — face growing water security challenges due to climate change, a booming population and the “wasteful” use of water resources, the official said solutions to water-related problems and disasters should be a priority for investment and integrated into development policies in a cross-sectoral manner.

“This issue will continue to be a critical concern for many countries,” the UNESCAP official warned.

Marshall Islands drought now a ‘disaster’

In the Marshall Islands, a remote Pacific insular state, the local government has raised the alarm to disaster levels as the country’s northern atolls continue to see empty water tanks and wells due to extremely dry weather expected to continue until July.

The government is said to be in the process of devising a strategy for partners and aid agencies to deal with the extended crisis. Initial assessments show that over 3,200 islanders have less than 11 days of drinking water supply left despite rationing 1 gallon of drinking water per 6-person household per day. This comes as the number of cases of diarrhea, pink eye, flu and other drought-related illnesses are climbing.

Devex previously reported that aid agencies like AusAID, USAID and the International Organization for Migration were working closely with the local authorities to mobilize relief materials and purchase desalination units.

Other groups have since stepped in. The Japan International Cooperation Agency has dispatched an expert to join a U.N. Disaster Assessment and Coordination team in surveying the situation and coordinating assistance from donors in the coming weeks, JICA spokeswoman Michino Yamaguchi told Devex.

Devex also learned that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has mobilized a delegate to lead an emergency response team in the affected areas, and UNICEF is providing health information and emergency supplies to residents, including hygiene kits, water quality testing kits and oral rehydration salts.

Meanwhile, AusAID is set to beef up its response.

An AusAID spokeswoman told Devex that aside from donating AU$100,000 ($97,330) to purchase reverse osmosis units and spare parts, it is currently assisting the Marshall Islands government in drafting a National Water Policy.

Long-term response to the drought by all parties will be based on the findings of the Immediate Drought Action Plan and Assessment Report which will come out in the following days, the spokeswoman added.

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About the author

  • Johannamorden profile

    Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a former Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covered the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business, and the law.

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