New approaches needed for sustainable water, World Urban Forum told

Innovative approaches needed to quickly provide sustainable water and sanitation to serve Asia's cities, a senior official of Asian Development Bank told a session at the World Urban Forum. About 700 million people in Asia and the Pacific are without safe water supplies and some 2 billion have inadequate or no toilet facilities, said Arjun Thapan, deputy director general of ADB's Southeast Asia Department...

VANCOUVER, Canada, June 22, 2006 (ACN Newswire) -- Innovative approaches will be needed to quickly provide sustainable water and sanitation to serve Asia's cities, a senior official of Asian Development Bank told a session at the World Urban Forum (WUF) yesterday.

About 700 million people in Asia and the Pacific are without safe water supplies and some 2 billion have inadequate or no toilet facilities, said Arjun Thapan, Deputy Director General of ADB's Southeast Asia Department.

He was speaking at a Trialogue Session at WUF on Water, Sanitation and Human Settlements, held to discuss new approaches to developing strategic partnerships and introduce new delivery mechanisms that give the poor a central place in the decision making process.

Asked to identify two key issues in helping meet the development challenge, Mr. Thapan said that bridging the gap between demand for finance and its supply was crucial, together with sustained tariff reform. Creating demand for finance would require working with local governments extensively to strengthen their finances and develop a business environment that attracts investments. ADB has embarked on this exercise with a range of new products and processes.

"Inadequate urban water services result from poor governance and irrational tariff policies," Mr. Thapan said. "The key constraint is lack of money to expand and sustain services with the problems compounded by poor financial management of the service provider."

On tariff reform, he said that "unless sensible tariff regimes are put in place, sector investments would continue to be thin." He quoted Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Male, Harbin, and Dalian as good examples of water tariff reform.

Until financial reforms take hold, ADB was working on two initiatives to expand coverage sustainably. One was to encourage small, private water networks to serve local communities. The other was to adopt zonal approaches to improving service performance. Pilots showed that both initiatives were valid and should be scaled up. These were commended for adoption globally.

Mr. Thapan also indicated that ADB had embarked upon a Water Financing Program that seeks to double investments in Water to over $2 billion annually commencing in 2006. Investments, however, would be coupled with initiatives to improve sector governance and build capacity. With decentralization programs under way in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, ADB would continue to work with local governments and communities to ensure that reforms, and improved service performance, take hold in a sustainable way.

At WUF, thousands of experts, politicians and activists are meeting to discuss the world's growing urban problems. On the agenda are the simultaneous challenges of tackling urban poverty, protecting the environment and creating healthy, pleasant cities as the world's urban population soars.

ADB (www.adb.org), based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in the Asia and Pacific region through pro-poor sustainable economic growth, social development, and good governance. Established in 1966, it is owned by 64 members -- 46 from the region. In 2005, it approved loans and grants for projects totaling $6.95 billion, and technical assistance amounting to $198.8 million.

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