ADB Wants More Efficient Use of Asia's Dwindling Freshwater Supplies

The Asian Development Bank (ADB)
has developed a draft framework for its water operations that calls
for sweeping efficiency improvements and greater public-private
sector partnerships to address the water crisis in Asia and the

The Draft Water Operational Framework for 2011-2020 was
discussed today at the “Water: Crisis and Choices - ADB and Partners
Conference 2010” at ADB headquarters in Manila. The event
has drawn together over 600 water professionals from government,
industry, think tanks and non-profit organizations from around the
world to examine water challenges and the solutions needed to
overcome them.

Urbanization, industrialization, pollution, and competing
demands for water for energy and food production have left water
stocks in many Asian countries in a critical state.

The onset of climate change, with more extreme weather events,
melting glaciers, and saline intrusion poses a new and serious
threat. By 2030, estimates suggest there will be a shortfall of 40%
between water supplies and demand in the region, with food
production under threat and rising cross-border tensions over
shared water resources in river basins.

While stocks dwindle, water use in Asia is marked by
inefficiencies and waste, with leakage in urban water supply
systems alone amounting to the loss of as much as 29 billion cubic
meters a year, worth around $9 billion. Irrigated agriculture,
which draws most of Asia’s freshwater, is also notoriously
inefficient with efficiency improvements averaging 1 per cent
annually since 1990.

Providing water below costs, or giving
it away at no cost, coupled with the lack of integrated planning
for water use, weak governance, and low levels of investment from
the private sector have also hampered management of the

“Asia has been an inefficient water user, with a constant bias
towards growing supply rather than managing demand. ADB’s draft
Water Operational Framework suggests a new paradigm for its
developing member countries focused on efficiency gains,
business-like approaches, and effective partnerships to make better
use of scarce resources,” said Arjun Thapan, ADB’s Special Senior
Advisor (Infrastructure and Water), and the convener of the water

The framework - which is a result of extensive consultations
with stakeholders - provides a design for ADB’s future work in the
water area, with the focus on using water more efficiently.
Operations will focus on areas such as advanced water-efficient
irrigation practices, reducing losses in urban water supply
systems, and the development and adoption of technologies that
offer cost-effective ways to treat and reuse wastewater. Greater
attention will be paid to develop a corporate outlook in the
business of water services, currently dominated by governments, so
as to drive efficiency and attract private investments and

“Increased investments from the private sector, especially in
managing and delivering water services, and in using technology and
innovation to reduce our water footprint will be critical to
securing a sustainable water supply,” said Mr. Thapan. “Governments
do not have the resources to go to scale and effective partnerships
with the private sector will be a sine qua non”.

The framework recommends a study to examine the outlook for
available sources of freshwater in the region over the next 20
years, as well as forecasting the impact of water use policies and
practices on food, energy production, industrial growth and
domestic use, factoring in climate change uncertainties. It will
consider potential technology solutions to improve efficiency, and
business models to encourage private sector investment.

Following the regional study and water assessments for selected
countries, ADB will seek to mobilize fresh resources for the Water
Financing Partnership Facility, a mechanism established in 2006 to
fund investments in rural and urban water services and river basin

It will also review the status and quality of its water
partnerships to maximize synergies and knowledge development, and
will explore the deployment of specialist water teams in-country to
provide real-time quality support.

Source: GLOBE-Net

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