With significant lack of water, deterioration of water quality will limit water use, threatening the ecosystems, and creating a drag on socio-economic development. Productive economies are sensitive to water quality. Irrigation-induced salinisation reduces productivity and can ultimately take land out of production. Saline soils are already estimated to affect almost 50 percent of irrigated areas in Turkmenistan, 23 percent in the PRC, and 20 percent in Pakistan.
ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management Bindu N Lohani at the opening of Asia Water Week 2013 said that although Asia continued to show remarkable development and poverty reduction, and the role of Asia in the global economy had significantly increased, water security was becoming an issue of concern, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, most of the industries that are driving the economic growth of the region require reliable supplies of freshwater for some part of their production cycle. Secondly, the regions expanding populations need more water for drinking, for personal hygiene and for food and fiber production, which are the largest consumer of water. Thirdly, expanding industrialising economies and urbanised populations demand increased energy supplies, which in turn rely on access to water. Balancing these, often competing demands, will require better planning and management of water resource allocation, creation of efficient and responsive service providers, and engagement with a broader set of water stakeholders.
He further said in 20 years, 1990 to 2010, an additional 1.7 billion people in the region had gained access to safe water. But more than 65 percent of the region’s people still do not have a safe, secure water supply piped to the house. In cities and towns across Asia, only about 20 percent of urban wastewater is treated. 80 percent of wastewater is discharged untreated to rivers, lakes and wetlands with adverse impact on human health and also the health of the ecosystems of water ways. These discharges also adversely impact the cost of downstream use of water. He further said the floods in Pakistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Philippines and the PRC had been a sharp wake-up call to governments and development agencies, including ADB. In 2011 alone, flood damage was estimated at over dollars 61 billion.
According to the report, in Asia and the Pacific, the correlation between income and access is unequivocal – the wealthy have better access than the poor to water supply. Differences between richer and poorer communities amount to 96 percent in Nepal and 92 percent in Cambodia, India and Pakistan. Appropriate policy measures must be implemented to reduce competition among users and reverse widespread environmental damage, maintained in the report.
Without concerted efforts to ensure economic water security, the remarkable economic growth and poverty reduction in the region could be jeopardised. To restore healthy rivers and ecosystems eight percent of rivers in the region are in poor health, as measured by the river health index.
Pollution from cities is only a part of the challenge to the security of the water environment. South Asia and Central and West Asia have rivers assessed as being in the poorest health. Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka all have rivers that are in such poor health that environmental water security is threatened in these basins.
As illustrated by the recent natural disasters in the region, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, extensive flooding in Pakistan in 2010 and again in 2011, the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and flooding in Thailand in 2011, the region is vulnerable to major hazard events. These events are of such a scale that they may overwhelm even the well-prepared countries, making it impossible to avoid loss of life, significant destruction, and substantial economic losses, maintained in the report.