More than 75 percent of Asia-Pacific countries lack water security with many facing an imminent water crisis unless steps are taken to improve water resources management, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in its latest study.
ADB vice president Bindu Lohani said that while the Asia-Pacific region has become an economic powerhouse, it is alarming that no developing country in the region can be considered water secure.
“In Asia and the Pacific, more than 60 percent of households live without safe, piped water supply and improved sanitation. South Asia and pacific islands are hot spots with lowest coverage. Inequity is highest in South Asia,” Lohani said in his opening speech at the Asia Water Week 2013 in Manila.
The assessments made by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in a study said countries in the region could be disproportionally affected by the potential impact of climate change if they did not rethink how they manage their water resources.
Nearly half of the deaths caused by water-related disasters and 90 percent of people affected by such disasters from 1980 to 2006 lived in Asia, the report said.
Developed nations like Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Japan top the list of nations best prepared to cope with floods, droughts, hurricanes, storm surges and landslides, while Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Tajikistan, the Pacific nation of Vanuatu and Bangladesh are the least prepared.
No country in the Asia-Pacific region is a model for its management of water services and resources, according to the Manila-based lending and development institution, whose aim is cutting poverty.
Thirty-eight developing countries have low levels of water security or have barely begun to improve, and only 11 have set up infrastructure and management systems.
In India and the Philippines, another study by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific found that public utilities responsible for providing water and sanitation services “lack capacity in all aspects of sustainability, including effective functioning, financing, and demand responsiveness.”
Lohani said the Asia-Pacific region needs US$59 billion in investments for water supply and US$71 billion for improved sanitation.
Most cities in Asia, which accounts for half of the world’s 20 megacities, have extensive infrastructure for domestic water treatment and supply, although piped systems often stop short of individual households, and potable water services are not maintained full-time at the point of delivery, the ADB said.
For instance, some cities in China and South Korea provide round-the-clock water service, but in many other cities tap water is only available for limited hours. In Jakarta, water is available in most areas for about 18 hours each day, and in Chennai, India, water is available for an average of only about four hours each day.
Then there is the question of health. About 88 percent of all diarrhea cases are attributed to lack of adequate access to water and sanitation.
Although the percentage of people with access to improved sanitation rose from 36 percent in 1990 to 58 percent in 2010, 1.74 billion people in Asia and the Pacific continue to live without access to improved sanitation. More than 792 million people still suffer the indignity of practicing open defecation, and more than 631 million of these people live in rural South Asia.
The gap between rich and poor is a big factor when it comes to water access and management, the report said. In South Asia, led by Bangladesh, it is estimated that up to 96 percent the rural rich have access to sanitation, compared to only 2 percent to 4 percent of the rural poor. There has been little progress on improving access to sanitation in the Pacific islands, the ADB said.
Here are some of the other key findings:
• Of the 49 countries under assessment, 8 countries suffer from hazardous levels of water security, while 29 countries have begun to engage in the essential tasks to improve water security.
• Ten countries are shown to have established the infrastructure and management systems for water security, and further 2 countries are considered to have effective systems of water resources management. No country in the region was found to have reached the highest model level of water security.
• In Asia and the Pacific, more than 60% of households live without safe, piped water supply and improved sanitation. South Asia and Pacific Islands are hot spots with lowest coverage. Inequity in access is highest in South Asia.
• The region needs $59 billion in investments for water supply and $71 billion for improved sanitation.
• Every dollar invested in water and sanitation is likely to return $5 to $46 in reduced health care costs and increased economic productivity.
• Countries should double the current rates of investment in sanitation. Investment of $25 per person will finance basic access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation and hygiene.
• The fastest increase in water demand now comes from industry and cities.
• In Asia and the Pacific, agriculture accounts for 79% of annual average water withdrawals, and demand for food and animal feed crops are predicted to grow by 70% to 100% over the next 50 years.
• South Asia, the poorest and most populous subregion, has relatively low agricultural water productivity.
• In Asia and the Pacific, wastewater is often released into rivers, lakes and groundwater untreated or only partially treated.
• As little as 22% of wastewater discharges are treated in South Asia, making it a hot spot where the growth of livable cities will be delayed without urgent action.
• Asia has the lowest per capita availability of freshwater. Around 80% of Asia’s rivers are in poor health, jeopardizing economies and the quality of life. About $1.75 trillion in ecosystem services per year are threatened.
• Every $1 invested in a river restoration program can return more than $4 in benefits.
• Around 90% of the people affected by water-related disasters live in Asia. South Asia and the Pacific face the highest risk for water-related disasters and have the lowest resilience.
• The cost of flood disasters in the region has increased over time, reaching estimated damages of over $61 billion in 2011.