Youth creativity and leadership on tap to solve Asia’s water problems

By Civil Society Team on Tue, 01 July 2014

Written by Ponce Samaniego

With some 60% of the global youth population living in Asia and the Pacific, young people have consistently and increasingly shown they are capable of addressing urgent development problems through their innovative ideas.

It was in this spirit that about 100 youth leaders attended the recent Young Water Leaders Summit, organized by Singapore national water agency, PUB, with support from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other partners. The 4-day event is one of the flagship activities of Hydro-gen, the youth and talent development component of the Singapore International Water Week, which seeks to nurture and develop the next generation of water leaders.

The scale of the challenges faced in water and sanitation are huge. About 1.7 billion people still have no access to clean water and sanitation in Asia and the Pacific. Some 780 million people still practice open defecation, and about 80% of wastewater is discharged without treatment into Asian waterways, resulting in pollution and exposure to diarrhea, the second leading cause of infant and child deaths worldwide.

Addressing these challenges, ADB’s Youth Initiative team, supported by its partners, Korea Water Forum, Asia Pacific Youth Parliament for Water, and Plan International, led a session at the summit on Sanitation for All: Empowering Youth to Improve Sanitation in Asia.

Participants swapped notes on awareness raising campaigns on sanitation in their local communities and initiatives to finance sanitation infrastructure and facilities.

“As much as the world has progressed in many respects, we know through our programs in 14 Asian countries that there is still a pressing need for potable water and sanitation facilities in many communities,” said Plan Thailand Country Director Maja Cubarrubia. “This is a basic right of everyone. We are pleased to team up with ADB in working on these issues with the youth.”  

In a presentation, Min Woo Kim, President of Asia Pacific Youth Water Parliament, shared the findings of his research on improving water sanitation in rural areas within the context of post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

He pointed out how improved water supplies and sanitation support lower child mortality, better maternal health, universal education, and gender equality. They also reduce  poverty eradication costs. He added that the resolution of water issues will be key to achieving the MDGs, since it is central to all parts of it. “I’m grateful that the ADB and its partner institutions recognize how the youth are able to effect actual change,” he said.

ADB puts a strong focus on meeting the MDG target of halving the number of people without sustainable access to basic sanitation, and from 1968 to June 2014 it has provided total investment asssistance of nearly $1.159 billion for rural water supply and sanitation. It has also partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation  for the financing of non-sewered sanitation and septage management solutions across Asia.

We hope that youth will continue to work with ADB’s developing member countries in identifying, testing, and implementing innovative sanitation solutions such as new policies, business models, and technologies.

As Chris Morris, Head of ADB’s NGO and Civil Society Center, summed up: “Through ADB’s Youth Initiative and our projects with governments throughout Asia we look forward to increasing the ways that we engage and support youth in sanitation projects.”