(EnergyAsia, March 19 2013, Tuesday) — More than 75% of 49 Asia Pacific countries are experiencing a serious lack of water security, with many already near crisis level, says a new study prepared jointly by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asia-Pacific Water Forum (APWF).

The study found that 37 of the developing countries in the region are either suffering from low levels of water security or have barely begun to engage in the essential task of improving water security. Twelve countries are shown to have established water security infrastructure and management systems while no country in the region was found to have reached the highest model level of water security.

According to the bank, ‘Asian Water Development Outlook 2013’ provides the first quantitative and comprehensive analysis of water security on a country-by-country basis in the region. It examines water security from the household level to water-related disasters, and uses indicators and a scaling system to rank the progress of each of the 49 countries under assessment.

The study found that industrial activities and cities account for the fastest increases in Asia’s water consumption.

The energy industry is both a major and fast-growing user of fresh water, as well as contributor to wastewater output. While the study did not provide sufficient data to show the volume of water consumed as well as polluted in energy production, distribution and consumption, it suggests that further expansion of Asia’s energy industry will have a significant impact on the region’s water supply and security.

China, the region’s largest economy, already ranks poorly in various measures of water security has laid out plans to expand domestic oil, gas and coal production that will greatly increase its use as well as pollution of scarce water resources.

“Cities occupy 2% of the world’s land, use 75% of its resources, and generate up to 80% of gross domestic product. More than half the world’s slum dwellers live in Asia,” said the study.

“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 Bindu Lohani, ADB’s Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

South Asia and parts of Central and West Asia have the worst water experiences, with rivers under immense strain, while many Pacific Islands suffer from a lack of access to safe piped water and decent sanitation and are highly vulnerable to increasingly severe natural disasters.

East Asia, which has the highest frequency of hazards in the region, has a better water management record due to higher levels of investment in disaster defences, but urban water security remains poor in many cities and towns.

The study also found two major problems: sharply rising inequality in access to water and sanitation, and the increasingly precarious state of rivers. It presents options for measures that can be adopted to improve water security to mitigate the growing pressure from booming populations, urbanisation, pollution, over-extraction of groundwater, climate change and other threats.

“Water supports health and livelihoods, grows our food, powers our industry, and cools our generating plants, and these different uses can no longer be seen in isolation from each other,” said Ravi Narayanan, vice-chair of the APWF Governing Council.

“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.”

Current levels of investment, coupled with outdated policies and institutions, have failed to deliver water security. The study highlights the importance of a more productive use of water, including greater recycling of ‘used water’.

Corporatising water utilities to improve their efficiency, increasing sanitation investment, encouraging more productive water use by food and energy producers, imposing more regulations on groundwater use, upgrading irrigation services, strengthening management of river basins, mobilising more private sector investment to clean up rivers, and improving disaster risk management are all essential for a more secure water future.