ADB conference to address Asia's water crisis

Finding solutions to Asia’s water crisis will be the focus of an international water conference in Manila starting today.

About 600 representatives from water constituencies in government, think-tanks, non-profits, and industry from 53 countries will gather at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) headquarters from 11 to 15 October to discuss issues and solutions to the water crisis that threatens the region’s economic growth, and environmental sustainability.

Among the speakers for the “Water: Crisis and Choices – ADB and Partners Conference 2010” are Margaret Catley-Carlson, Patron of the Global Water Partnership; Paul Reiter, Executive Director of the International Water Association; Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu, Chairman of the Council for Energy, Environment and Water in India; and others from a variety of agencies and organizations engaged in the water business. They will exchange views on the scale and dimensions of the crisis, examine the application of current and emerging solutions, and determine new directions for sustainable water management in Asia.

Growing populations, rapid urbanization, and competing demand for water from agriculture, energy, industry, and urban areas have left water stocks in many countries in a critical state. Economic powerhouses, the People’s Republic of China and India, are seeing an alarming drop in available per capita water supplies. The onset of climate change, with increasing instances of extreme weather events, is already impacting Asia’s freshwater resources.

“Asia’s water world has gone past its tipping point. The challenge now is to urgently halt, if not reverse, the decline in freshwater availability,” said Arjun Thapan, ADB’s Special Senior Advisor (Infrastructure and Water), and the convener of the conference. “Asia needs to aggressively adopt measures that dramatically improve water use efficiencies and safeguard the region’s food and energy security.”

Around 80% of Asia’s water is used to irrigate crops, but much of it is used inefficiently, while many of the region’s most water-stressed countries lose large volumes of treated water through leakage in urban water supply systems. It is estimated that the region loses as much as 29 billion cubic meters of treated water a year, conservatively valued at $9 billion.

Large infrastructure investments will be needed to address the region’s current water problems, with at least $8 billion required just to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2015 targets for safe drinking water and sanitation. And unless service delivery is radically revamped with efficiency at its core, the challenge will remain unmet.

The conference will examine how to design and implement better demand management solutions by minimizing the water draw, and recycling and reusing wastewater. It will look at new approaches for water use in irrigation to improve productivity, measures needed to strengthen water governance, and pricing policies that can make the cost of supplying water fair and financially sustainable.

The conference will also examine prospects for increased private sector partnerships and investment to provide the expertise and resources needed to develop and fund water solutions.

During the conference, ADB will discuss its draft Water Operational Framework for 2011-2020, which suggests a framework for ADB’s prospective work in water, focused on supporting increased efficiency of water use, enhanced application of science and innovation, promotion of wastewater management and reuse, and the development of a corporate outlook in delivering water services.

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