Water articles are written by ADB staff and external contributors on various water issues, reforms, and good practices.

Putting Asia's Water Crisis and Choices into Perspective
September 2010

By Steven Griffiths Multimedia Specialist Arjun Thapan, ADB Special Senior Advisor on Infrastructure and Water, makes the case for the upcoming water conference in October and brings ADB's water operations in the next 10 years into perspective, aligned with the region's knowledge and investment capacity. Mr. Thapan is the convenor of the Water: Crisis and Choices—ADB and Partners Conference 2010 that will be held on 11-15 October this year. The conference will allow water stakeholders across Asia and the Pacific to share knowledge and explore solutions to increase momentum of water developments up to and beyond 2015. ADB's Water Operational Framework 2011-2020 will be released to gather inputs from ADB's many water partners to ensure a better water future for the Asia and Pacific region. WHY IS ADB ORGANIZING A WATER CONFERENCE? WOULDN'T IT BE JUST ANOTHER TALKFEST? This is not a talkfest. This is a serious technical conference with concrete solution outcomes, and not a circus. At this gathering, we want policy makers, consumers, investors (both current and prospective), the private sector, government players—everybody who has a stake in water—to come together to understand the dimensions of the crisis we are faced with, and the solution choices. ADB has a role to play, particularly since it decided 5 years ago to at least double its water investments. We should now ensure that the level of lending is sustained, perhaps even increased, and that we are able to leverage it much better with knowledge and with the right kinds of partnerships to make those solutions work. WHAT CAN PARTICIPANTS EXPECT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THE CONFERENCE? First, on cities and water. If somebody attends these sessions and leaves believing that it really does make sense to open urban water and waste water services as a business, then I think we've made a huge dent on that person's mind. Because whenever urban water and waste water services are run as a business, they're very successful. Secondly, on water and food. The slogan "more crop per drop" really has to be translated into action across irrigated agriculture. The way to do this is to become more efficient about every drop that goes into the irrigation system. Supply-side solutions are possible, but only after the demand-side solutions have been exhausted. Third, on water quality. Clean water is not just a matter of pursuing a fad. It's a matter of removing pressure on existing water resources. Cleanups are not only much more expensive than keeping clean from the beginning. And doing so doesn't just give you health benefits; it also gives you more water to go around for everybody.
_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in September 2010:

Lastly, river basins are where nature's hydrological cycle begins and ends. It's the natural cradle for water, and we as human beings need to work within basins. Unless integrated water resources management is taken from a paradigm or a theory and put into practice at basin level, we will never achieve the kinds of efficiency that we are looking for in water for food, or clean water, water for cities, water for energy, because they are all in the same basin. This is so crucial that it really ought to be our number one theme. WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT ADB'S WATER KNOWLEDGE BASE? Knowledge is certainly an essential foundation for the operational work that we plan to do. Without the kind of deep understanding of a country's water issues, there is hardly any basis for ADB as an institution to attempt to support the country. In its absence, that support will at best be patchy and, in many cases, ill-founded. What we have suggested to Management is that ADB undertake a Future of Water in Asia 2030 study and to underpin this with 9 country water assessments. These will be a new breed of assessments and will not just focus on the issue of water in isolation of everything else. They will look at the water-energy-food relationship and the water-climate change issue. These assessments will then form the basis of our country-water operational plans. They will then give a far more reasonable basis for us to say, "Look, I now understand Country A's problems much better than I did three years ago. I can now suggest to the government that these are the kinds of policy measures they need to be working on to transform their national water agenda." And this is how we at ADB can be part of the process of the country's transformation. HOW CAN ONE GET INTO THIS NEW KIND OF THINKING AND OVERCOME THE SO-CALLED SILO-BASED DEVELOPMENT OF OLD? It begins by integrating them in our way of looking at development, and then by forming teams across departments in ADB and across countries to look at this very obvious relationship. Unless we do these, we would not be giving quality advice to our clients because clients now need to see this relationship right through budgeting, planning, and implementation processes. Countries need to make choices. Do I need more water now, inefficient as I am in using that water, to grow more food of a particular kind, or do I need more water to service my high energy demand? (Thermal power needs large volumes of cooling water). Or do I need to make another choice; which is that I take water for domestic purposes because my cities, thanks to rapid urbanization, are growing further and further away from water sources. Energy, water, food, cities—they're all connected. So these are choices I need to make, but these are inter-related choices. This is what I'd like ADB staff to be able to do: to understand the relationships between water and other sectors and themes of economic development, do the analytics of reform measures including the socioeconomic trade-offs, and make informed recommendations to governments.

Let the governments then decide what courses of action they wish to pursue. CAN YOU GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK INTO ADB'S WATER OPERATIONAL FRAMEWORK 2011-2020? The main objective of ADB's water operational framework 2011-2020 is to refocus attention on the water crisis that has now enveloped Asia, and to see the issue of water in the context of food, energy, and climate change, and the impact of these relationships on development. In other words, ADB needs to take a much deeper and more sophisticated look at the impact of water on development particularly since 80% of Asia's freshwater goes to food production. And food demand is projected to increase by 70-90% in Asia alone over the next twenty years. What is more important is that the nature of the food demand is changing, in terms of the dietary preferences of rapidly urbanizing and obviously higher-income populations, particularly in India and China. So we need to look at these issues; efficiency of water use, in regard to scarcity that is now apparent everywhere in Asia, with a lot more rigour and sophistication. IT SEEMS THAT ADB IS WELL-PREPARED FOR THE NEXT DECADE OF ITS WATER WORK. WHAT ABOUT THE REGION AS A WHOLE? DO YOU THINK ASIA CAN MUSTER THE WILL TO MAKE WATER FOR ALL HAPPEN? I don't deny that it's a question of political will, of social will. Why is it that you can get a story like Phnom Penh Water in Cambodia, but you can't get a single town or city in India which comes close to the achievements of Phnom Penh Water? South Asia is notorious for the absence of 24/7 service. Often, political will is influenced by other factors, for example, by performance improvement. If I can show you, as my political master, that I can actually improve performance in my service area, and make more money by saving water and billing it, and improve my balance sheet, you are likely to set me free. That's how I get corporate status, autonomy, and freedom of action. This is one way in which PPPs emerge. It's beginning to happen where we thought it would never happen—in India. In Maharashtra you have public private partnerships in now being closed in water. Yes, they are small, not the kind of PPPs you'd get in Metro Manila (the 25 year concessions we have here are worth billions of dollars) but it's a beginning after 63 years of independence. Political will can be made to happen, through a variety of ways, and is beginning to happen, so I won't be so pessimistic as to say that everything is dependent on political will and until that changes, we can't do anything. We can do many things.

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