Asia’s looming water crisis is a function of poor water management, not physical water scarcity, affirms the first comprehensive analysis of water security in the region published by the Asian Development Bank last week.
At the heart of this crisis is the region’s ailing river systems. 80% of Asia’s rivers are in poor health, says the report, overwhelmed by pollution and uncoordinated development of water resources. About US$1.75 trillion in ecosystem services per year are threatened.
China’s Yellow River comes out top as Asia’s most unhealthy river. The rivers of Armenia and India follow close behind. All these rivers suffer from inappropriate water resource developments that have substantially changed the flow regime, including hydropower, impoundments, flood control, and diversions.
Pollution is the other major problem. In cities and towns across Asia, only about 20% of urban wastewater is treated. 80% of wastewater is discharged untreated to rivers, lakes and wetlands.
The report provides the first quantitative assessment of different dimensions water security for each country, ranging from economic security to vulnerability to water-related disasters.
Only two countries – New Zealand and Australia – are considered to have effective water security policies in place. Water security levels are “hazardous” in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu.
The report calls for improved integrated water resources management, greater public investment, and support from the private sector to reduce pollution and finance the restoration of healthy rivers.
US$1 invested in a river restoration programme can return more than US$4 in benefits, the report claims.