Water security in Asia and Pacific has progressed overall in the past five years but major challenges remain, including overexploited groundwater, demand from rising populations and climate variability, according to a new report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The new edition of the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO 2016) provides a snapshot of the water security status of 48 of the region’s countries, using latest data sets.
According to these, the number of countries assessed as water insecure has dropped to 29, compared to 38 (out of 49 countries) identified in the previous issue of the report in 2013.
The report cites that in Asia and the Pacific, 1.7 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. Recent estimates suggest that by 2050, 3.4 billion people could be living in water-stressed areas in Asia and the Pacific while water demand will increase by 55%.
AWDO 2016 assesses water security in five key dimensions - namely household access, economic viability, urban services, restoring rivers and ecosystems, and resilience to water-related disasters.
Advanced economies such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand consistently lead the way, followed by countries in East Asia - led by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which has taken the biggest stride to improve water security since the AWDO 2013 edition.
On household access to piped potable water and improved sanitation, the water security score in Asia and the Pacific on a 20-point scale ranges from 4.5 for South Asia to 20.0 for the advanced economies.
All parts of the region improved their performance by about two points since 2013, except for the Pacific islands. But although the rural-urban gap has been reduced in some countries (such as Armenia and Thailand), the report said major disparities remain between rural and urban areas and between rich and poor on services and infrastructure for piped water supply and sanitation.
The second key dimension, economic water security, provides an assessment of the productive use of water to sustain economic growth in food production, industry and energy. Most of the change since 2013 has been positive with advanced countries again showing the highest scores and Pacific islands lagging. But there remains room for improvement across the region. Countries that merit strengthening current conditions are concentrated in Central Asia, ADB added.
For urban water security, East Asia has shown positive progress while South and Southeast Asia still have some way to go, particularly Myanmar, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
Nearly half of the economies have piped water supply levels higher than 85% but less than 50% of the urban population have access to improved sanitation. In many areas, the majority of wastewater is discharged to the environment having received little to no treatment. The report said significant investment and leadership is needed to reliably meet the water needs of cities.
The fourth key dimension describes how well a country is able to manage its river basins and sustain ecosystem services. This shows a wide range of results, with the Pacific islands scoring highly due to good river health and advanced economies doing well due to strong governance. Declining river health is most evident in Bangladesh, the lower Yangtze River Basin of the PRC, Nepal, and Mekong Delta in Viet Nam, the report says.
The report concludes that the relationship between water security and the economy can be a virtuous, or a vicious, circle. “There is a strong relationship between water management and the economy, and investments in good water management can be considered as a longer term payback for increased growth and poverty reduction,” the report said.
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