In Asia, wealth buys access to clean water: development bank


MANILA — Ninety-one percent of people living in Asia have improved access to clean water, a remarkable achievement over the last two decades in the world’s most populous region. But its richest countries and wealthiest citizens likely have better water supplies and governments better prepared for natural disasters.

The assessments made by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in a study published Wednesday say countries in the region could be disproportionally affected by the potential impact of climate change if they did not rethink how they manage their water resources. Nearly half of the deaths caused by water-related disasters and 90 percent of people affected by such disasters from 1980 to 2006 lived in Asia, the report said.

Developed nations like Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Japan top the list of nations best prepared to cope with floods, droughts, hurricanes, storm surges and landslides, while Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Tajikistan, the Pacific nation of Vanuatu and Bangladesh are the least prepared.

No country in the Asia-Pacific region is a model for its management of water services and resources, according to the Manila-based lending and development institution, whose aim is cutting poverty. Thirty-eight developing countries have low levels of water security or have barely begun to improve, and only 11 have set up infrastructure and management systems.

“While the Asia-Pacific region has become an economic powerhouse, it is alarming that no developing country in the region can be considered ‘water-secure,”’ said ADB Vice President Bindu Lohani.

Nearly 80 percent of Asia’s rivers are in poor health. Urban populations are on the rise and so is pollution, while food and energy needs are putting more pressure on the water resources.

Unless these competing needs are balanced, “water security will remain elusive, undermining development gains and the quality of life for billions of people in the region, especially the poor,” said Ravi Narayanan, vice chair of the Asia-Pacific Water Forum governing council.

The good news is that the proportion of the region’s population with access to drinking water has increased from 74 percent to 91 percent between 1990 and 2010. Progress has been made in all subregions expect the Pacific, where access remains low at 54 percent.

However, access to reliable tap water supply paints a different picture. Although more than 900 million people gained access to piped water, more than 65 percent of the region’s population does not have what should be considered a secure household supply.