Asia’s water supply under threat

Manila – Booming populations, rapid urbanisation and competing demands for food and energy will drain Asia’s dwindling freshwater supplies unless the region manages its resources better, experts said on Tuesday.

Unless something is done, demand for water will exceed supply by 40% by 2030, threatening food production, energy security, economic growth and raising cross-border tensions over water resources, the Asian Development Bank said.

“Asia’s water world has gone past its tipping point. The challenge now is to urgently halt, if not reverse, the decline in freshwater availability,” said Arjun Thapan, ADB special senior adviser.

Around 80% of the region’s water is used to irrigate crops, but much is used inefficiently. Many countries also lose large amounts of treated water through leakage in urban water supply systems, with losses estimated at about $9bn a year.

“Twenty years from now, unless Asia alters the way it manages its water resources, it is likely to be critically short of water,” Thapan said.

The Manila-based development bank said it has developed a draft plan for 2011-2020 that focuses on making water use more efficient to reduce demand, with the help of a partnership between the private sector and governments.

Lack of public funds

The proposal – including more efficient irrigation, reduced leakage in water systems and better wastewater treatment technologies – is being discussed at a five-day conference attended by 600 water professionals from 53 countries, the ADB said. Thapan said the plan could be adopted before the year’s end.

The region needs at least $8bn in infrastructure investments just to meet the United Nations’ 2015 target of reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to drinking water, the ADB said.

Water management is hampered by a lack of public funds to invest in efficient technologies, so more private investment will be critical in securing sustainable supplies, the bank said.

Thapan said the total volume of accessible freshwater has been shrinking everywhere across Asia, most notably in India and China – home to more than a third of the world’s population.

South Africa is facing a similar water crisis. Water supplies in South Africa are dwindling and the water resources we have available are at risk of being polluted by Acid Mine Water.

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