rice planting
Irrigation has been the dominant mode of water usage and currently exceeds 90% of total water demand in many Asian and South Asian countries.
MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The Asia-Pacific region is “the global hot spot for water insecurity,” according to the “Asian Water Development Outlook 2016: Strengthening Water Security in Asia and the Pacific,” recently released by the Asian Development Bank. With agriculture continuing to use 80% of water resources across the region, countries from Afghanistan to the Philippines face a host of challenges in providing safe water for sanitation, agriculture and human consumption as populations grow.

Irrigation has been the dominant mode of water usage and currently exceeds 90% of total water demand in many Asian and South Asian countries, especially India and Pakistan. Experts expect total population in the Asian-Pacific region to grow to 5.2 billion by 2050 and be the host of 22 “megacities” by 2030, placing finite water resources under huge pressure. A total of 3.4 billion people could be living in water-stressed parts of Asia by 2050, the report said.

Asian Development Bank president Takehiko Nakao
Takehiko Nakao, president of the Asian Development Bank.

“I believe the most daunting challenge is to double food production by 2050  for an increasingly prosperous and growing population, while also providing water for more domestic users and meeting industrial and energy demands,” said Takehiko Nakao, president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

He noted that climate change, which may increase climate variability and water-related disasters, created “a more challenging horizon than we have experienced in the past.”

Competition for water between the industrial sector of Asian economies and agriculture is expected to intensify. The ADB report projects water demand in the region to increase by 55% by mid-century because of growing needs for domestic water, as well as water for manufacturing and thermal electricity generation. Agriculture, in turn, will need to produce 60% more food on a global basis and 100% more in developing countries.

Water resources were seen diminishing in a range of locations as a result of rapid groundwater depletion, the report said. A key focus for improvement is creating sustainability of groundwater resources. The report said power subsidies contribute to groundwater overuse as well as water policy.

“The math tells us that business as usual, even if fully and uniformly implemented across Asia and the Pacific, will simply not suffice due to limited water resources,” the report said. “Strengthening governance is undeniably the major requirement for effective resource management and sustainable development.”

Some progress toward these goals has been made. The number of “water insecure” nations in Asia and the Pacific has dropped to 29 out of 48 from 38 out of 49 in 2013, said the report. Advanced economies such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand remain at the forefront of water security, while East Asia has shown strong progress. The report said additional investment and leadership would be required to lift some countries, such as Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines, out of the ranks of water insecurity. (Small island nations were not part of the ADB report).