Three-quarters of Asia-Pacific nations ‘lack water security’

Most countries in Asia-Pacific do not have adequate water access Copyright: Flickr/Community Eye Health

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[MANILA] About 75 per cent of emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific region suffer from low levels of water security, with millions still living without safe water supplies and sanitation facilities, according to a study published this week (13 March).

The Asian Water Development Outlook 2013, prepared by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asia Pacific Water Forum, showed that out of the 49 countries surveyed, 37 are facing serious water crises.

The study blamed rising populations, urbanisation, lack of governmental investment and outdated policies and institutions, among other factors, for failing to provide communities with adequate sanitation services and access to safe, piped water.


  • Report reveals an urgent need to address ‘alarming’ water insecurity in 37 Asia-Pacific countries
  • Poor government investment and outdated policies among are cited as key reasons for water insecurity
  • Region needs US$130 billion to improve water and sanitation

Bindu Lohani, ADB’s vice-president for knowledge management and sustainable development, says he finds it "alarming" that such water insecurity exists in the region despite it being home to some of the fastest growing and most technologically advanced economies in the world.

Sylvia Inciong, ADB’s external relations officer, says that even strong economies like Japan, Singapore and South Korea have failed to reach a water secure stage. Only Australia and New Zealand are considered to have effective systems for water resource management, she says.

Among the indicators used in the study are household, economic, urban, and environmental water security; as well as resilience to water-related disasters.

"The region needs US$59 billion in investments for water supply and US$71 billion for improved sanitation," the study says. It also urges water to be used more productively — through the recycling of "used water", for example — and for governments to adopt a corporate-style governance to improve services for urban and wastewater management.

While South-East Asia fares better than South Asia, which Lohani cites as the worst performing region in Asia, if the three best performing countries — Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore — are removed from the equation, South-East Asia would also score poorly, the study says.

Cambodia, the country with the lowest score in the region with a score of only 1.60 (with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest), suffers from a severe lack of water security. Other countries with low scores include Timor Leste (1.8), Indonesia (2.6), Laos (2.6), Myanmar (2.2), the Philippines (2.2), Thailand (2.2) and Vietnam (1.8).

The Pacific island states are also doing poorly with Kiribati (1.2), Nauru (1.6) and Tuvalu (1.6) showing poor performances on almost all indices.

"Many Pacific islands suffer from a lack of access to safe piped water and decent sanitation and are highly vulnerable to increasingly severe natural disasters," the ADB said during the launch.

The ADB study emphasises that "there are no one-size-fits-all solutions across the region". Instead, the appropriate solutions for each country will reflect the country’s resource endowment, economic development, culture, and chosen development path, it says.

"As the national water security assessments in [the report] demonstrate, there is an urgent need to strengthen the capacity for integrated planning and management nationally as well as in river basins and cities," says the study.  

Countries capable of overcoming the challenges and become water secure "are in a better position for sustainable economic growth," Arriens says.

Link to the full report

See below for a video on Asian Water Development Outlook 2013: