Asia Society Issues Comprehensive Water Security Strategy

New York, April 17, 2009—Decreased access to a safe, stable water supply in Asia "will have a profound impact on security throughout the region," warns an Asia Society Leadership Group report released today. In response to the cascading set of consequences reduced access to fresh water will trigger—including impaired food production, the loss of livelihood security, large-scale migration within and across borders, and increased economic and geopolitical tensions and instabilities—the report recommends a comprehensive strategy to avert a regional crisis.

Asia’s Next Challenge: Securing the Region’s Water Future, was chaired by Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large and Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, Tommy Koh, and includes the expertise of former senior officials from governments across Asia, business and NGO leaders, and scientists. Notable members include economist and Director of the Earth Institute Jeffrey Sachs (United States), Nobel Laureate and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Rajendra K. Pachauri (India), former Foreign Ministers Gareth Evans (Australia), Han Sung-joo (South Korea), Yoriko Kawaguchi (Japan) and Surin Pitsuwan (Thailand), and CEOs Andrew Benedek (ZENON Environmental, Canada), Ajit Gulabchand (Hindustan Construction, India), and N.G. Wickremeratne (Hayleys Limited, Sri Lanka).

The report highlights the fact that although Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population, the region has less freshwater per capita than any continent other than Antarctica. Currently, one out of five people (700 million) in Asia does not have access to a clean water supply, and half of the region’s population (1.8 billion people) lacks access to basic sanitation. Population growth, rising urbanization rates, rapid economic growth and climate change are expected to worsen the situation.

"The current approach to viewing water scarcity and quality concerns through a predominantly environmental lens is no longer sufficient. Policymakers need to begin looking at this issue in a more comprehensive way that takes into account the complex national security and development challenges countries and communities will faces as water scarcity in the region intensifies," said Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai.

The Leadership Group maintains that while solutions are well within reach, they will require high-level political will and significant investments. Governments need to develop policies that can address multiple problems simultaneously, with the aim of reducing security risks and vulnerabilities and providing economic benefits such as investments in infrastructure for water conservation and management. Asian countries should forge a regional approach in which governments and other key stakeholders, including nongovernmental organizations, civil society groups, and businesses, work together to clarify responsibilities and coordination mechanisms to address water security concerns.

The report includes the following recommendations:
• “Raise the profile of water security on the agendas of national governments in Asia…to strengthen capacities to engage in preventive diplomacy focused on water and start setting policies and making investments in support of infrastructure for water conservation and management.”
• “Include water in security policy planning.” Preventative measures, such as conflict resolution mechanisms to address intra- and transboundary water issues and disaster-warning systems, and coordination for responding to water-related disasters should be strengthened.
• “Encourage investment in water management technologies,” including incentives to increase developing-country adoption of, and private-sector investment in, technologies that advance water security, and low-tech approaches, such as improved methods to desalinate water and low-cost drip irrigation.
Strengthen public and private-sector partnerships “to ensure broad and equitable ownership of water resources” and draw on the experiences and expertise of “local leaders… who are advancing sustainable water management practices and models of mediation and conflict resolution to address water-related disputes.”
• “Address the emerging water crisis through a post-2012 climate agreement,” including adaptation measures “to lessen the impacts on water resources resulting from global warming that are already unavoidable because past emissions."
• “Utilize the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data on water and climate change to develop early-warning systems….[that consider] the impacts of desertification, sea-level rise, and other consequences related to climate change.”
• “Develop concrete ways of implementing existing statements and regional agreements such as the Asia-Pacific Water Summit Declaration of 2007.”
• “Expand the Water Financing Partnership Facility initiated by the Asian Development Bank….to provide financial resources and technical support in the key areas of rural and urban water services and river basin water management, including adaptation to climate change.”
• “Harmonize the Millennium Development Goals that pertain to water under a unified United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific task force on rapid implementation to meet the 2015 targets in Asia.”
Endow “the United Nations with a data-collection capacity that is authorized to gather water quality data worldwide, similar in scope to data collected on nuclear issues by the International Atomic Energy Association.”

Full text of the report is available at


Saleem Ali (Principal Advisor), Professor of Environmental Planning and Asia Studies, University of Vermont
Andrew Benedek, Founder, Chairman, and CEO, ZENON Environmental, Inc.
Suzanne DiMaggio (Project Director), Director, Asian Social Issues Program, Asia Society
Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group; former Foreign Minister of Australia
Ajit Gulabchand, CEO, Hindustan Construction Co.; founding member of the Disaster Resource Network (DRN) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum
Han Sung-joo, Chairman and Director, Asan Institute for Policy Studies; former Foreign Minister of South Korea
Yoriko Kawaguchi, Member, House of Councillors; Chair of the Liberal Democratic Party Research Commission on Environment; former Foreign and Environment Minister, Japan
Tommy Koh (Chairman), Singapore’s Ambassador at Large; Chairman, Asia Pacific Water Forum
Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Director-General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); former Foreign Minister of Thailand
Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Earth Institute, Columbia University
Nafis Sadik, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General; former Executive Director of the UN Population Fund
N.G. Wickremeratne, CEO, Hayleys Limited
Erna Witoelar, Chair, Partnership for Governance Reform; former UN Special Ambassador for Millennium Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific; former Minister of Human Settlements and Regional Development of Indonesia
Xianbin Yao, Director General, Regional and Sustainable Development Department, Asian Development Bank
Yuan Ming, Director, Institute of International Relations, Peking University

*This initiative was made possible with the generous support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred and Jane Ross Foundation.

The Asia Society is an international organization dedicated to strengthening relationships and deepening understanding among the peoples of Asia and the United States. We seek to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of policy, business, education, arts and culture.

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