Looming Asian Water Crisis Requires Billions in Annual Improvements, ADB Says

The finance institution urges for more public-private partnerships.

Shrinking glaciers and drying rivers threaten to leave Asia with 40 percent less water than it needs in as few as 20 years, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Asian Water Crisis

Photo creative commons by Sammy Dai

“Asia’s water world has gone past its tipping point,” said Arjun Thapan, ADB’s special senior advisor on infrastructure and water, at a conference in Manila, the Philippines, earlier this month. “The challenge now is to urgently halt, if not reverse, the decline in freshwater availability.”

The continent needs $8 billion a year in investments to improve water security and provide drinking water and sanitation, and most of that will need to come from the private sector, according to the ADB.

The Manila-based development finance institution invests more than $2 billion a year in water projects across the region and plans to maintain that investment level over the next 10 years.

To avert the water crisis, Thapan said, the region needs to do a better job of managing demand and improving water conservation. Inefficient crop irrigation and leaking urban water supply systems cost the region up to 29 billion cubic meters of water a year, worth $9 billion, the ADB estimates.

“The water footprint in our towns and cities, in our irrigation systems, our energy production systems and in industry in general, is extravagant,” Thapan said during the conference.

But in a statement issued after the event, the Water for the People Network (WPN), a Philippines-based advocacy group, argued that privatization is not the way to go for Asia.

“Contrary to the claim of the Asian Development Bank, allowing profit-oriented private corporations to take over the management and distribution of water resources will even worsen the problem,” WPN said.

The ADB cited the Philippines as the “best example so far” of public-private partnerships in the water sector. But WPN pointed out that 13 years after the 1997 privatization of metro Manila’s water system, only 60 percent of the households in one service area have 24-hour water supply; more than half of the water is wasted due to leaking pipes and theft. Several months ago, almost half of metro Manila was hit by water shortages, with thousands of residents enduring long lines and water rationing, according to WPN.

The advocacy group said that promoting more public-private partnerships will further worsen the deteriorating condition of the world’s water supply. It added that the public sector is still better positioned to provide water because of its mandate to deliver public goods and services such as water.

Sources: Asian Development Bank, Manila Bulletin, Reuters, Water for the People Network

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