Wanted: New Measures to Avert Looming Asia Water Crisis

Arjun Thapan, director general of the Asian Development Bank's Southeast Asia Department, is very worried: A water crisis is looming in the region.

"The continent's impressive growth in recent times has brought rapid urbanization, high rates of industrialization, and higher incomes in its wake," said Thapan during the United Nations-sponsored World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. "These have put huge pressures on Asia's ability to manage its water resources."

Many scientists share the same pessimism about the situation. Some even forecast that the crisis would lead to food shortages and social unrest.

"Asia's food and feed demand is expected to double by 2050," said Colin Chartres, director of the International Water Management Institute.

Innovative initiatives must be found to release the pressure on water resources and, at the same time, improve water productivity. Until today, millions of Asian farmers are still using their own made-up irrigation systems, which need to be modernized.

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization and IWMI indicated that without water productivity gains, South Asia would need 57 percent more water for irrigated agriculture and East Asia 70 percent more.

Thapan called for an aggressive business outlook, an extensive use of new and emerging technologies, a large-scale reuse of wastewater, and better matching of irrigation systems with food security.

Such solutions will obviously cost money. But investing in better water management can be a successful strategy. Studies presented during the World Water Week have shown that for each dollar of investment made in sanitation, the potential returns range from $3 to $34.

In 2006, ADB set up the Water Financing Partnership Facility to support its water and sanitation programs. The initiative mobilizes co-financing from development partners such as Australia, Norway and Spain.

At the same time, development practitioners who are willing to be part of that battle against water crisis can count on USAID's backing. The agency just announced the launching of a new online resource to help development practitioners improve financing for water and sanitation programs.

About the author

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    Antoine Remise

    Antoine is a former international development correspondent for Devex, based in Paris. He holds a bachelor's in political science from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques of Lille and a master's in development administration and planning from the University College in London. Antoine has conducted researche for development projects in Chile, Senegal and Uganda, notably on education, health, local saving systems and housing issues. He is fluent in French, English and Spanish.