Asia-Pacific still water insecure

Back in 2015, more than 75 per cent of Asia lacked was water insecure. Water insecurity affects mainly China, South Asia and the urban areas of Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Asia represents about half of the global bottled water market, a factor that discourages investment in public infrastructure.


New York (AsiaNews) – The Asia-Pacific region is not meeting the sustainable development goals (SDGs) laid out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda, this according to a report released today, World Water Day, the first day of the UN Water Conference (22-24 March) in New York. Pope Francis himself mentioned it this morning in his weekly general audience.

According to the report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), little progress has been made to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” (Goal 6), “Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all” (Goal 8), support “Sustainable consumption and production” (Goal 12), and Conserve sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” (Goal 14). In the case of one goal, taking “urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”, it is actually going backward,

According to the Asian Development Bank, in 2015, when the 2030 Agenda was drafted, more three quarters of Asia was water insecure and the gap between water demand and supply to be 40 per cent by 2030.

A report by the UN University Institute of Water Environment and Health ahead of the UN Water Conference shows that the spread of bottled water is a sign of the lack of drinking water, a situation that prevents long-term state intervention in providing and improving public water supply infrastructure and slows down the achievement of sustainable goals.

The Asia-Pacific region makes up about half of the global bottled water market, while developing countries put together account for about 60 per cent.

Obviously, the reasons that drive people to buy bottled water vary from other area to area. In the Global North, people see bottled water as safer, while in the Global South, bottled water is bought because of a “lack or absence of a reliable public water supply",  reads the report titled, "Global Bottled Water Industry: A Review of Impacts and Trends".

For instance, in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, only 31 towns out of 734 have sewerage systems, which manage to treat only 40 per cent of the sewage.

At the same time, the Asia-Pacific region has the highest groundwater extraction rates globally because of “rising demand for water due to growing populations, rapid economic development and improving living standards”, says the United Nations World Water Development Report 2022

About 70 per cent of water resources are used for agriculture, with India and China ranked at the top for consumption of groundwater in agriculture.

Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan pump between 210 and 250 cubic kilometres of groundwater every year, depleting aquifers and increasing water insecurity.

For these reasons, India’s north-western desert areas are considered at risk as are Middle Eastern regions, together with the urban centres of Southeast Asia (by 2050 64 per cent of the Asian population will live in cities),

Last January China announced that it spent US$ 148 billion on water management in 2022, a 44 per cent increase over the previous year.

Last summer, factories in the south-western China had to halt due to a record drought that caused some rivers, including parts of the Yangtze, to dry up. Droughts are one side of the coin of climate change; frequent flooding is the other.

Southeast Asia too is affected because of Chinese dams built on the Mekong River, which crosses China’s Yunnan province, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The upstream dams are affecting fish catch, rice cultivation and river weed, a major source of income for women and the elderly,” said Pianporn Deetes, campaign director for Thailand and Myanmar at Rivers International, an advocacy group.

Between 2019 and 2021, despite drought conditions, Chinese dams held back large amounts of water, causing water levels along the Mekong to drop to record lows, displacing local communities who rely on the river for their livelihoods.