Water everywhere but not enough to drink in Asia-Pacific

A water tap. Photo by: Sharon Drummond / CC BY-NC-SA

Change is in sight for the region home to over 90 percent of people without water security, as the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit ends on Monday with a pledge for tighter regional ties and a $20 billion solution proposed by the Asian Development Bank.

Asian Development Bank President Takehiko Nakao, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and United Nations General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić led leaders from civil society, governments and business at the two-day conference in the Thai city of Chiang Mai.

The meeting aims to heighten regional attention and cooperation on water resource management, water security and water-related disaster challenges in Asia-Pacific.

Since the first summit in 2007, more than 75 percent of countries and 90 percent of people in the region remain without secure access to water, while 80 percent of Asia’s rivers wallow in poor health, according to the ADB’s Asian Water Development Outlook 2013 report released ahead of the event.

Wouter Lincklaen Arriens, a lead water resources specialist at the ADB, told Devex from Chiang Mai that the event is a milestone to lock commitments from the highest levels of governments in increasing water security in the face of the report’s findings.

“To implement the commitments from the Asia-Pacific Water Summit, closer collaboration among government, the private sector and civil society is key,” Arriens added.

The summit also saw Asia’s top development bank bolstering its pledge to support water-related infrastructure, governance and capacity development in Asia-Pacific.

Nakao announced ADB plans to invest $20 billion by 2020 under its Water Financing Program, through which the bank has doubled its water investments to about 25 percent of its investment portfolio.

“We aim to use these investments to leverage external sources of finance, including bilateral official sources and private sector finance. We will complement the financing by sharing knowledge on water security issues and their solutions,” he said.


In his speech, Nakao highlighted the following four areas which require urgent action to promote water security in the Asia-Pacific region, also listed in the Asian Water Development Outlook 2013:

  1. Asia’s cities must become more innovative and inclusive in reducing water use, and in reusing and recycling water resources. Many countries need to increase – or even double – investment in sanitation and wastewater management.

  2. The region needs to find innovative ways to grow more food using less water to achieve “more crop per drop.” More efficient irrigation services, increased support for research and knowledge sharing, and new practices for saving water are crucial to achieve this.

  3. Integrated approaches are needed to restore the health of rivers and aquatic ecosystems. These must include downstream as well as upstream communities, plus the local watershed management authorities. Protecting water resources in the mountains, watersheds, wetlands, and groundwater is vital.

  4. An integrated approach is needed to build resilience to water related disasters. In addition to improved infrastructure, early access to reliable information is essential.

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About the author

  • 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.