While Asia is home to some of the most vibrant economies in the world, it is also the global epicentre for some of the worst human development indicators. Around 700 million people live without access to safe drinking water in Asia, and a staggering two billion people do not have access to basic sanitation, exposing them to disease and often deadly infections. Poor water and sanitation governance continues to plague Asia, casting a dark shadow over the future with the United Nations expecting 3.5 billion people to be living in water-scarce and water-stress areas in the coming decade.
Access to water has important implications for health, education, poverty and the environment. Children around the world are missing an incredible 440 million school-days per year due to diseases related to water, sanitation and hygiene. In adults, these diseases lead to productivity and income losses equivalent to millions of dollars per year, mostly among the poor. Moreover, contaminated water is one of the leading causes of diarrhoea, responsible for one-fifth of child mortality under the age of five. Lack of clean water and sanitation could result in losses of billions of dollars and stunted economic progress, leaving Asia’s poorest further behind.
Global megatrends such as climate change, rapid urbanisation and surging water demand will force Asia to change the way it addresses water governance over the next 20 years To make matters worse, Asian countries have actually witnessed their water quality drop in recent years, perhaps signifying a lack of concern by governments and society as a whole. Clearly, a change of course is required.
There are several aspects of water governance that currently demand attention. This bulletin has selected four important aspects that are especially relevant to the plight of the poor:
- What are the best ways to cope with the rapid urbanisation of the poor in water utilisation?
- How does pricing water for affordability affect investment and water conservation?
- Is privatisation of water treatment and supply a bane or a boon for the poor?
- What is the best way to deal with water pollution by the poor: a carrot or stick approach?
Infographic: How do Asia’s poor get water?: JPEG format