MANILA (AFP) – Asia is facing a worsening water crisis that threatens to curtail food production while taking an increasingly heavy toll on the region's economies, the Asian Development Bank said Tuesday.
Governments, industries and people around the region urgently need to stop wasting so much of the precious resource if they are to limit the shortage, ADB infrastructure advisor Arjun Thapan said.
"The water footprint in our towns and cities, in our irrigation systems, our energy production systems and in industry in general, is extravagant," Thapan said at a water crisis conference hosted by the Manila-based lender.
"It needs to shrink and Asia needs to become acutely conscious of the scarcity value of its accessible fresh water, and the imperative of efficiency in managing it."
In a report, the ADB faulted weak enforcement of laws for the degradation of Asian water quality, with between 80 and 89 percent of all untreated wastewater leaching into fresh water in east and south Asia, respectively.
"In short, Asia is witnessing a despoliation of its freshwater resources with disastrous consequences for ecological balance and environmental sustainability," the bank said.
It also highlighted that while irrigated agriculture uses up 80 percent of the region's fresh water, there have been only very minimal moves to boost irrigation efficiency over the past two decades.
At least least nine billion dollars' worth of treated water was lost each year in Asia's cities, the ADB said.
Climate change, rapid industrialisation, water pollution, dietary shifts and the drive to grow biofuels are also expected to deepen the water crisis, according to Thapan.
On current trends, this would lead to a 40 percent gap between water demand and supply in Asia by 2030.
"The impact is going to be greatest on food production and investment in the energy sector," Thapan told a news conference.
"All of these, doubtless, is going to impact on overall economic growth."
Among the region's largest countries, the ADB estimated India would face a water deficit of 50 percent by 2030 while China would have a shortage of 25 percent.
China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Nepal, Uzbekistan and Cambodia are currently feeling the heaviest impacts of the water shortage in terms of food and energy production as well as ecological damage, the ADB said.
Plugging the water leakage and stopping the waste will cost billions of dollars, according to the ADB, which called on the private sector to play a bigger role in fixing the problem.
"Increased investments from the private sector, especially in managing and delivering water services, and in using technology and innovation to reduce our water footprint, will be critical," Thapan said.