Will Asia be able to meet its future water needs?

ADB water experts Amy Leung and Ian Makin will discuss the findings of the 2013 Asian Water Development Outlook, the region's first quantitative analysis of water security on a country by country basis

Date: 20 March 2013

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Harumi Kodama: Hello and welcome to ADB’s live chat “Will Asia be able to meet its water needs in the 21st century?” I’m Harumi Kodama from ADB’s Department of External Relations. I’m joined today by Amy Leung, Director of Urban Development and Water Division in ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, and Ian Makin, Principal Water Resources Specialist in ADB’s Regional and Sustainable Development Department.

Harumi Kodama: Our first question is from @beancook on Twitter: What is the likelihood of water wars and will this affect access and cooperation on water security?

Ian Makin: History tells us that, although tensions and disputes over water can become heated, the tendency is for cooperation rather than conflict. Even during military conflict, international agreements on shared water resources have been preserved. However this history is not a reason for complacency – water resources are increasingly committed for a variety of uses and disputes between upstream and downstream nations must be expected to become more polarized. Increased transparency over the planning of shared basins and efforts to provide benefit sharing in place of water sharing will be required to maximize the productive use of limited resources.

Lis Stedman: What are the specific challenges that the region faces that are unique to it, in terms of its water resources?

Ian Makin: Thanks for the question Lis. As a whole the region is faced with a number of challenges - most notably rapid urbanization and industrialization. The region's huge population is also very exposed to the expected impacts of climate change.

Lis Stedman: Were any of the findings of the report surprising to the ADB?

Amy Leung:: Hi, Lis. We are not surprised by any of the findings in the report. We are concerned with the gap between access to piped and non-piped water and improved sanitation in urban and rural areas and the gap between the richest and the poorest. There is still a lot for us to do.

YT Chiu / BNA: On Page 92 of the Outlook Report, you said that "Numbers in bold italic type reflect a rating by expert opinion (no data available)." Would you please let us know more details about the "expert opinion" here? For example, how do you do the KD1 rating and KD2 rating for Taipei,China?

Ian Makin: Hi Chiu. As you will see from the annexes to Asian Water Development Outlook 2013, there are a number of countries and data sets where we were not able to find reliable data to enable us to compute the indicators. In those cases we assembled the best data we could find and then sat with people with good local knowledge to "estimate" a value for the index.

Harumi Kodama: Prime Sarmiento asks: Why do South Asian and Pacific economies ranked poorly in terms of potable water supply and sanitation?

Amy Leung:: Typically low-income countries are less able to provide the necessary funds to invest in this sector, and indeed other crucial ones too, including healthcare, education. However, it is also true that some countries do not attach enough importance to the sector and spend less as a percentage of national budgets compared to developed countries. It is not seen as a national priority by finance departments.

Amy Leung:: The lack of transparent water governance structures hampers many countries as they seek to advance without reform of the existing complex, overlapping agencies. In some countries efforts to improve sanitation have not adequately addressed the cultural traditions which have delayed progress. Nevertheless, while these challenges exist, the one sure way to make progress is for governments to get serious about delivering change. They need to lead and help stimulate demand for these services, and must create the right enabling environment and governance structures to enable effective delivery of services for all.

Lis Stedman: In terms of solutions to these issues, I would anticipate that some parts of the region would be better placed to take immediate action than others. What first steps are you advising for countries whose capacity to act is still limited?

Amy Leung:: I suggest they come to ADB. We offer both technical and financial support.

Amy Leung:: ADB will not ‘come up’ with all the money and solutions on its own. We will work with governments, in partnership with public and private sector water service providers, and development finance institutions to mobilize the necessary resources.

Harumi Kodama: Prime asks: How important is the role of women in securing clean water supply for the family?

Amy Leung:: Women play a vital role in water supplies for millions of households. Women and girls share a greater burden than men and boys in securing water supply for the household, and nearly always take the lead in family hygiene and health issues. Women must be empowered to better understand the issues and options, and enable them to participate in making the right choices for their families. Men also need to be empowered to better understand the issues. WASH programs are valuable in reaching out to communities.

Ian Makin: Many observers cite the indignity of carting water as a factor that diminishes the status of women. Studies point to the lost opportunity as girls drop-out of school to carry out these dismal chores, and women fail to contribute productively to the income of their families and the economy of their region. In poor and/or marginalized communities, women and girls can spend many hours every day carting water from source to home. Eradication of these ancient chores should be a global and national priority. The time for analysis is over - the time for changes to eliminate pointless inhuman conditions, restore dignity and create new opportunities is now.

YT Chiu / BNA: Thanks, Ian. What can we expect from the 3rd Edition of the Outlook? Some more goals have been set? Will it involve more international collaboration to work on the research?

Ian Makin: The Asia Pacific Water Security Center (APWSC) has been established at Tsinghua University to lead the development of the approach to measuring water security we have just published. APWSC, as a knowledge hub of the Asian Pacific Water Forum, is building partnerships with other knowledge hubs in the network and with leading research organizations to develop the next edition. It will be for governments to set goals and for AWDO to help record the progress to those goals.

Lis Stedman: Ian, Amy, thank you very much for your answers. I was also wondering if you could provide an update on the proposed Regional Knowledge Hubs? Are these a key element in progress?

Ian Makin: The knowledge hubs are real, and as mentioned earlier, some have actively contributed to the work leading to AWDO 2013. During Asia Water Week, held at ADB HQ last week, a team from the knowledge hubs met to discuss how to increase their program of work to help agencies and countries address water management issues. We will be following up on these ideas in the coming weeks.

John Coronel: Why are we losing so much water from leaky pipes? What can be done to reduce the loss?

Amy Leung:: Why indeed. Pipes, or rather water mains, are laid underground and are subject to movement and aging, as well as repeat disruption from other underground services and construction. As age and other construction activities take place, water loss is almost inevitable. A prudent water utility will invest in regular refurbishment and replacement but sadly many are not financially and technically equipped to do so. Water loss has therefore built up to unacceptable levels in many parts of Asia and the Pacific. Utilities must embark on aggressive programs of water loss reduction, to cut down so-called non-revenue water (NRW), including unmeasured supplies and pilferage. These programs have been gaining traction in the region and allow utilities to incrementally reduce loss and achieve economically defendable levels of NRW.

YT Chiu / BNA: In Message 12 to Leaders, you said "In many countries, water governance institutions were developed to build infrastructure that would deliver water-related services and did not assume any scarcity in supply." Would you please point out what countries need to address this urgently?

Ian Makin: Many countries still have multiple agencies with responsibilities for water. This often leads to ineffective planning and utilization of available resources, including water, human and financial resources. I can not think of a country in the region that would not benefit from a long, hard look at the institutional arrangements for water planning and management.

Giovanni: What is the role the private sector can play in managing water resources across Asia and the Pacific? Are there meaningful differences from country to country?

Amy Leung:: The private sector has a very important role to play. Private sector firms can practice good stewardship to protect water resources as a means to minimize their business risks and business costs. Large businesses can be encouraged to show leadership to their suppliers. All businesses in all countries must be made water-aware and take responsibility for their use of this critical resource.

Harumi Kodama: Pradip Sharma asks: Is there any way of measuring the amount of ground water in an area?

Amy Leung:: Groundwater is a difficult resource to monitor – it is out of sight and out of mind in many cases. At the largest scale, satellite remote sensing is being applied to monitor changes in the earth’s gravitational field due to changes in water distribution, including groundwater. At the local level, observation wells, geological surveys, pumping tests and modeling can go a long way in quantifying the reliable yield of an aquifer.

@nehaset from Twitter: For India, while overall index is 1, economic index is 3. Does this mean that scarcity is still not affecting the economy?

Ian Makin: It is interesting to note that the Economic Water Security Index for most developing member countries is higher than the other dimensions. But we also have to remember the indicator is a composite value for the country. So although AWDO indicates India is more economically water secure than its overall water security assessment, we are sure water quality and quantity issues are affecting the economy.

Harumi Kodama: A question sent to us earlier: What do you think will be the reactions of governments whose countries have been assessed to have national water security indexes of either 1 or 2? How will you explain this to the countries?

Amy Leung:: Probably a little like an individual receiving bad news – initial disbelief (the data must be wrong), then anger (why highlight our problems), withdrawal (there is nothing we can do about this, it’s a result of our natural resources), and ultimately a resolve to find a way forward (OK, we can fix this). In the Asian Water Development Outlook 2013, we have shown that water security is multi-dimensional and that improving one dimension may result in reducing security in another. As competition for water continues to increase, we must not overlook the opportunities for enhancing water security by finding synergy between uses.

Likha Cuevas-Miel, TV5-InterAksyon.com: The Philippine Waterworks Association just declared today that we are facing a water crisis in 10 years if this is not addressed. Urban centers like Manila, Cebu and Davao are facing this while rural areas are still without piped water. They said the private sector will play a major role in this as the government cannot afford to build wastewater facilities. Is public-private partnership the only way to go?

Amy Leung:: Hi, Likha, public-private-partnership is one of the options. There is much the government will need to do to improve governance of water as a resource to be managed effectively and as a service to be delivered efficiently. More should be done on water sector reforms and implementation of effective regulatory regimes.

YT Chiu / BNA: Viet Nam's dependency on rivers that flow from other countries has made it a highly water-stressed country. What kind of regional cooperation is particularly needed at this moment to improve transboundary water resources management?

Ian Makin: Chiu - Transboundary governance of water is one of the most complex issues in water management. Whether this is across national boundaries, across provincial or state boundaries, or even between different agencies with responsibilities for water within the same area, the potential for disputes and sub-optimal decisions are high.

Ian Makin: The Mekong River Commission is charged with helping the countries in the Lower Mekong Basin to find ways to utilize the river for mutual benefit. While the MRC is criticized for many things, it continues to help the countries use the river productively and sustainably, despite the large differences of interest among the countries.

Aiden Koh: Why is the inequity in access to safe water getting worse? Is it because governments are not making clean water accessible to the poor? Or are the rich using their money or political clout to corner water resources?

Amy Leung:: Public investments often do not reach the poorest households in rural areas and urban slums because they lack the last-mile connectivity (failure to reach poor households because of distance). This needs to be addressed. However, lack of finance to expand services to all within their area is a frequent constraint. Utilities lack finance because they do not receive adequate funding from the government and/or they cannot achieve cost recovery in the tariff they charge users. Numerous studies show that providing piped-water access is the cheaper and safer alternative for all, including the poor.

Santiago Santamaria: What area should governments prioritize for their attention and action: freshwater resources, water basins management, domestic consumption, urban centres or else?

Ian Makin: Hi Santiago - the short answer is - "it depends on which country". Our work in the AWDO shows that improving water security is a complex task and the priority areas will depend on the local context. What is clear is that business as usual with uncoordinated investments in the sector will not provide for a water secure future. Water needs to be better integrated to national economic planning.

Cees van de Guchte, Deltares, the Netherlands: Hello from the Netherlands – I’m Cees van de Guchte, working at Deltares, a not-for-profit knowledge providing institute on water management, having a portfolio on applied research and advice in the Netherlands and worldwide. I’m heading a section on Climate Adaptation and Risk Management. Friday is World Water Day. The theme this year is Water Cooperation. Do you have a view on how water cooperation could and should be improved in developing climate proof infrastructure? E.g. what can the private sector do better in getting involved in projects addressing protection against flooding? How could knowledge providing institutes improve their teaming up with national or mega-city municipal government? Or how is the ADB promoting knowledge sharing among sectors, including the financial sector, as to enhance investments in such infrastructure? What possible role you see for European expertise in this regard? In other words, what are ADB’s focal areas to further improve water cooperation?

Ian Makin: Hi Cees - let me recall the slogan from the World Water Forum - Water is everyone's business - this remains the case. Finding ways to increase cooperation among the public and private sector entities and civil society is ever more important as climate change begins to change the water environment and demands new approaches to adapt to these changes. We have to expect that infrastructure alone will not be able to climate proof our communities and economies. So smart investments will be required which will depend on access to state-of-the-art knowledge and innovative solutions to evolving challenges.

Eric de Leon: As the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals fast approaches, countries clamor to reach the water-related targets. Do you think Asia and the Pacific will meet all the water-related MDG targets by 2015?

Amy Leung:: The countries of Asia and the Pacific are unlikely to meet all the water MDGs by 2015. Many countries in the region will reach their target for water supply (indeed many already have), but equally many will fall short of the targets for sanitation. This is deeply worrying, as inadequate progress in the sanitation sector means over 690 million people suffer the indignity of open-defecation and associated health risks.

Ian Makin: Thank you all for your interest in water and ADB's work in the sector. The questions today have covered a range of real challenges the region faces. Thank you for joining us this afternoon.

Amy Leung:: It has been a fruitful discussion and exchange. Thank you all for joining this live chat and sending in your comments and questions.

Harumi Kodama: Thank you very much to all of you who have contributed and participated today. We have gone overtime, so we'd like to invite you to send any further questions to hkodama@adb.org or contact us via facebook or twitter. Until the next chat!

Amy Leung
As an urban planner with expertise in urban development, water resources management, project design and monitoring, and public-private partnerships, Amy S. P. Leung currently helms the loan, grant, and technical assistance portfolio for urban development and water supply and sanitation as ADB's Director for Southeast Asia Department's Urban Development and Water Division. She has over 20 years of experience in managing multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary projects in Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the people's Republic of China, Philippines, and Uzbekistan.
Ian Makin
Ian W. Makin is Principal Water Resources Specialist in ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department (RSDD) where he coordinates implementation of the ADB water operational plan, focusing on water resources and agricultural water management to support ADB operations. Prior to joining ADB, he was Regional Director at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) leading research and capacity building initiatives in South East and South Asia. previously, he was a senior engineer at HR Wallingford, UK, for 16 years, leading water resource project teams in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Jamaica.