Asia's Next Challenge: Securing the Region's Water Future

Indian residents fill water buckets at a delivery from a municipal tanker.

Water scarcity problems in Asia are severe: one in five people do not have access to safe drinking water and half of the region's population lacks access to basic sanitation. Asia Society's Leadership Group on Water Security in Asia warns that decreased access to a safe, stable water supply in Asia will have a profound impact on security throughout the region. The Leadership Group's report, Asia's Next Challenge: Securing the Region's Water Future, argues that increased water stress can lead to "a cascading set of consequences, including impaired food production, the loss of livelihood security, large-scale migration within and across borders, and increased economic and geopolitical tensions and instabilities."

Solutions are well within reach, but they will require high-level political will and sufficient investment. According to the Leadership Group, "governments need to develop coherent national responses and policies to simultaneously address multiple problems." Countries in Asia "should forge a regional approach in which governments and other stakeholders [...] work together to clarify responsibilities and coordination mechanisms to address water security concerns."

The Leadership Group recommends a ten-point agenda to avert a water crisis in Asia:

  1. Raise the profile of water security on the political and development agendas of national governments in Asia.
  2. Include water in security policy planning.
  3. Encourage investment in and increased collaboration on water management technologies.
  4. Generate better policies through dialogue.
  5. Address the emerging water crisis through a post-2012 climate agreement.
  6. Utilize the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data on water and climate change to develop early-warning systems.
  7. Develop concrete ways of implementing existing statements and regional agreements such as the Asia-Pacific Water Summit Declaration of 2007.
  8. Expand the Water Financing Partnership Facility initiated by the Asian Development Bank.
  9. Harmonize the Millennium Development Goals that pertain to water under a unified United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) task force on rapid implementation to meet the 2015 targets in Asia.
  10. Improve data quality in order to generate better policies.

The Leadership Group was chaired by Tommy Koh, then Chairman of the Asia Pacific Water Forum, and was directed by Suzanne DiMaggio, then Director of Asia Society's Asian Social Issues Program. The Leadership Group and its Advisory Group included leaders from various sectors, as well as leading experts on environmental issues. Partner institutions were the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University's Earth Institute, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.