Mitigating water crisis in South East Asia

The United Nations forecasts that by 2025, half of the nation’s worldwide will face acute water scarcity or outright shortages (Hinrichse & Tacio, 2002). South East Asia is one of the regions where the water woes are worsening and around 1.6 billion people are already confronting formidable water constraints due to the pressure of population growth and urbanization.

To add to the misery, the UN estimates that around 700 million people will add to the increasing numbers in Asian cities over the coming years who will not have access to clean drinking water.

There is no silver bullet to solve this grave global crisis, as different regions and countries encounter entirely different challenges. However, there do exist some solutions that can address the water scarcity woes (Kummu et al, 2016).

Collaborative engagement of the national governments  

There is an urgent need for the governments in South East Asia to make collaborative efforts towards strengthening the governance and institutions focused on water. More robust and effective water policies should be developed to intensify investments in support of viable and warrantable infrastructure for sustainable water resource management (Florke et al, 2013). Governments need to reinforce optimum water efficiency measures by reducing wastage of water and conserving water assets to ensure long-term sustainability of water supply.

Focus on cost-effective solutions that facilitate a balance between demand and supply.

In order to meet the supply-demand gap, water metering could play a significant role. This can be facilitated by customer engagement and water loss reduction programmes. The governments of all the nations need to enforce regulations that could insure planning water resources at least twenty years ahead to ensure secure supplies. Stringent water metering needs to be implemented in all the Asian countries as a strategy to understand and manage demand for potable (drinking) water and to safeguard water quality. Compulsory water metering is the need of the hour and the preferred option for meeting the supply demand gap. The metering programme, wherever adopted has resulted in reduction in water demand (Cosgrove et al, 2015).

This is a twin track approach where the governments, councils and other concerned authorities can consider the cost-effectiveness of demand management actions prior to proposing resource developments.

Address the water crisis through a post-2012 climate agreement. 

Quantifiable and confirmable targets to minimize the GHG emissions, need to be embraced by all South East Asian countries. This will help to alleviate the impacts on the natural water resources resulting from the climate change and global warming. What is required, is some smart investments for sustainable water management and far-sighted policies, which would be effective beyond temporary responses to present climate variability (Liu et al, 2017).

Diversify the Water Financing Partnership Facility commenced by the ADB (Asian Development Bank).

The Water Financing Partnership Facility was started by ADB to foster monetary and technological support for Integrated river basin management (IRBM) in both rural and urban areas. IRBM involves the process of conserving water across different sectors within that particular river basin. The aim is to expand the social and economic advantages associated with the fresh water resources in an impartial and reasonable way, while conserving and restoring fresh water ecological systems. The starting investment of USD 26 million needs to be augmented with support from the private sector and inducements to sustain this endeavor across South East Asian countries (AM et al, 2017).

Harmonize the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) pertaining to water resources under UNESCAP task force on rapid enforcement to meet the 2015 agendas in Asia.

The ADBs Asia Water Watch 2015 research suggested that a sum of USD 8 billion/year would be required to meet MDGs targets for safe potable water. A coordinated plan of action that aligns with the goals through sustainable water conservation and management is required and can be commenced by a group of people managed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, for the Asian region (Wagstaff et al, 2004).

Improve data quality in order to generate better policies.

Inadequate and factual data about water resources across South East Asian nations is a threat to effective policy planning. The UN should make collaborative initiatives along with the governments of these nations to strengthen the data collection capacity in order to gather water data worldwide. The advancement of indices for comparing water resource activities across nations, as started by the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, needs to be bolstered with effective and more efficient policy support (Cronin et al, 2015).

Boost investments in increased collaboration on water resource management technologies. 

It is important to spur bigger investments in the framework, foundation and knowledge systems required to take care of complex water establishments for the benefit of everyone. Incentives are required to enhance private sector investments in advanced technologies to conserve water resources. For e.g. improved methodologies to desalinate water, cost-effective drip irrigation, and new crop varieties that can tolerate low water levels and drought.

Water conservation should be Included in security policy planning. 

The governments of the Asian nations should make an effort towards collaborative engagement of water resource management agencies with defense organizations to develop conflict avoidance capacities wherever required. Conflict prevention mechanism to solve the intra- and transboundary water challenges need to be enforced. Disaster management and warning systems and global cooperation in response to any disasters associated with water, should be coordination in response to water-related disasters should be braced up (Araral & Yu, 2013).

These suggested solutions are not meant to be exhaustive but are exhibitive of the outlook and correctness of the endeavors required to address water scarcity issues being faced by Asia. However, the superb news is that most of the water scarcity related challenges hounding South East Asian nations are addressable through environmentally and governable sustainable water management, and the advancements in technology and institutional tools that are needed to be successful are very well known

What is required now is action. With strategic planning and leadership, the water catastrophe can be converted into a catalyst for unending collaboration and coordination between the nations and across the communities.


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Araral, E., & Yu, D. J. (2013). Comparative water law, policies, and administration in Asia: evidence from 17 countries. Water Resources Research49(9), 5307-5316.

Cosgrove, W. J., & Loucks, D. P. (2015). Water management: Current and future challenges and research directions. Water Resources Research51(6), 4823-4839.

Cronin, A. A., Badloe, C., Torlesse, H., & Nandy, R. K. (2015). Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Moving the Policy Agenda Forward in the Post‐2015 Asia. Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies2(2), 227-233.

Flörke, M., Kynast, E., Bärlund, I., Eisner, S., Wimmer, F., & Alcamo, J. (2013). Domestic and industrial water uses of the past 60 years as a mirror of socio-economic development: A global simulation study. Global Environmental Change23(1), 144-156.

Hinrichsen, D., & Tacio, H. (2002). The coming freshwater crisis is already here. The linkages between population and water. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1-26.

Kummu, M., Guillaume, J. H. A., De Moel, H., Eisner, S., Flörke, M., Porkka, M., … & Ward, P. J. (2016). The world’s road to water scarcity: shortage and stress in the 20th century and pathways towards sustainability. Scientific reports6, 38495.

Liu, J., Yang, H., Gosling, S. N., Kummu, M., Flörke, M., Pfister, S., … & Alcamo, J. (2017). Water scarcity assessments in the past, present, and future. Earth’s Future5(6), 545-559.

Wagstaff, A., Claeson, M., Hecht, R. M., Gottret, P., & Fang, Q. (2004). The millennium development goals for health. World Bank Publications.


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