U.S. Water News Online
SINGAPORE -- Developing Asian countries will face an
unprecedented water crisis in as little as a decade if they are
unable to better manage their supplies of the precious resource, a
team of water experts reported.
A study commissioned by the Manila-based Asian Development Bank
said policymakers in many developing nations have so far paid
insufficient attention to the way they supply water, manage
wastewater and fight water pollution.
"If the present unsatisfactory trends continue, in one or two
decades, Asian developing countries are likely to face a crisis on
water quality management that is unprecedented in human history,"
wrote Prof. Asit K. Biswas, who led the international group of water
specialists in preparing the report released in Singapore.
One contributing factor to wastewater management problems is
massive and rapid urbanization, such as that seen in megacities like
Dhaka, Bangladesh; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Karachi, Pakistan, the
Wastewater collected from cities is often discharged to nearby
rivers, lakes or oceans with little or no treatment, which heavily
contaminates water bodies around urban centers and is already causing
health and environmental problems.
"By diluting seriously the definition of access to clean water and
considering sanitation only in a very restricted sense, developing
countries, including many in Asia, are mortgaging their future in
terms of water security," wrote Biswas, who heads the Mexico
City-based Third World Centre for Water Management.
The report said governments should step up efforts to build new
wastewater treatment facilities on a massive scale to reduce
contamination. It recommended a target of quadrupling access to
wastewater treatment facilities to 50 or 60 percent of the population
of Asian developing countries.
"This will not be an easy task, and yet this must be the real
target for Asian countries," Biswas said.
"Water quality management has mostly been a neglected issue in
Asian (developing member countries)," he wrote, adding that the
problem likely costs the region's economies billions of dollars
The report noted, however, that progress in urban water management
was being made in some parts of Asia, such as China, which has some
of the world's most polluted waterways and cities after two decades
of breakneck industrial growth but is making efforts to reduce the
Official awareness of the importance of providing clean drinking
water and proper wastewater management services is increasing to the
point that the issues have become priorities for policymakers on many
levels, it said.
For example, the government is constructing a massive network of
canals to supply its dry north with water from the wetter south. In
the southern industrial city of Shenzhen, officials have introduced
measures to conserve freshwater by flushing toilets with seawater.
The report also urged officials to study "success stories" such as
Singapore, which despite a lack of internal water resources, has
harnessed technologies in recycling water and desalination to provide
continuous, high quality drinking water to its dense, urban
Similarly, Cambodia's Phnom Penh Water Authority has managed to
reduce unaccounted for water from about 90 percent in 1993 to about 8
percent now, and provides a continuous drinking water supply.
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