Addressing water security by strengthening the foundation for socio-economic development

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The amount of water present in the world stands today at 70 percent, out of which only a small fraction of water is drinkable. With over 7.2 billion inhabitants, UNICEF estimates the population will increase to 9.7 billion by 2050,the need for global attention on water security becomes the biggest call of our time.Water security can be defined as “access to sufficient amounts of potable water” by any individual, bringing growth and socio-economic development together.Many global initiatives such as the previously initiated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the more recent Sustainable Development Goals and Johannesburg Plan of Implementation expresses the need to “prioritizewater and sanitation in national sustainable development strategies” in an effort to secure enough clean water for our future generations.

Since there are too many lapses in water security, specific populations are at a risk of receiving inadequate water supply.One of the prominent regions suffering from acute water scarcity is the Asia and Pacific. The region continues to face severe physical and economic challenges to water security.Undoubtedly, water scarcity in Asia results due to overpopulation. Today, Asia accounts for over 60% of the world populationand accounts over seven populous countries in the world.With an annual per-capita of water availability to be just 1.92%, countries in the Asia and Pacific records the lowest per-capita in water.

The world still accounts over 466 million without adequate access to water sourcesand over 1.87 million without adequate access to clean water, international aid organizations and development agencies have begun implementing projects involving local and regional governments to provide clean access to water to all. On the context of achieving socio-economic development in the region, achieving clean access to water for all will be necessary. It is important for international aid organizations and international communities to address these challenges effectively and efficiently within Asia and the Pacific. Hindrance to access to clean water can be achieved through competent governance, innovation,peace and regional stability, ensuring cross-border cooperation, and adequately relocation of financial aid.

Access to clean water: A global human right

While defining water security, one must clear its conscious by stretching the boundaries to “acceptable quality of water” necessary for the socio-economic development of communities. Today, there are almost 2.6 billion people living without adequate access to clean water andpoor sanitation utilities whereas over 883 million people in the world are living without access to clean drinking water.In spite of the initiatives taken by the United Nations and other development agencies, the most active initiative was the Millennium Development Goals. The MDG goal 7C explicitly stated the role of international community in increasing access of clean water to communities.

As a result of such initiatives by UN agencies, over 2.1 billion people were able to access clean water by 2010.Improved access to pipe water also decreases the chances of water borne diseases. Water borne diseases occur due to contamination of water by animal or by human urine and faeces.However, the number of human contamination in South Asia alone has decreased from 64 percent in 1990 to 39 percent in 2011, however, over 692 million people continues to practice it even today.In developing economics such as Indonesia, the underground drainage system has been a complete failure, which results over six million tons of human faecescontaminating the inland waters, leaving more than half of the population wander for clean drinking water.Due to open human defecation, diarrhoea claimed over 8.5% of deaths in South Asia alone. The 1990 cholera outbreak in Bangladesh led to more than 2,000 deaths.

Besides poor sanitation and hygiene, natural resources contaminate water very easily and much couldn’t be done about it. Because of massive industrialization in China, over 90% of the inland rivers were contaminated. Moreover,due to poor environmental governance resulted in failure to “protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and the quality of the environment.”

It is important for an individual to access clean drinking water use proper sanitation techniques. Thus, in light of some recent events, the United Nations stretched the importance of right to clean drinking water as a basic human right. Moreover, while addressing a congress on water scarcity, UNICEF stated that “the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.”

Poor access to water also instigates the issue of gender inequality. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. In reality, most states in Asia and the Pacific are still combating theprevalent issue of gender discrimination.In most of rural areas, women are tasked to collect water, stretching the regions to be vast in kilometres. Women, in rural areas walked approximately six kilometres (3.7 miles) in an effort to find sources of water.Whereas the UN addresses on creating water sources within 1000 meters every home.As a result, women ends up spending 25% of their day looking out for sources to clean water. Thus, women fail to attend schools and even those who do, have no option but to drop out.

Water, is the most important resource necessary for the human survival. Unfortunately, this most inalienable resource has been drastically overlooked. As international agencies and development organizations promote the safety and security of water sources, the progress remains to unevenly distributed. It is important for policy makers to address this issue through concrete policies.

The water-nomics

The basic principle of economics says “when the supply is low, demand is high”, the demand for clean water continues to grow rapidly. With the current population in South Asia crossing the mark of 4.3 billion, the population is estimated to increase to 5.2 billion by 2050, followed by the demand of 2,500 cubic meters per capita per year of water in the region, subsequently, this will hit the cost of water. In developing economies such as Cambodia, a house hold requires 250 USD per litre of water.Rural Cambodians use over 30 litres of water per day. In a nation with over 30% living less than 75 cents per day, along with an annual income of 1 USD, water will accumulate a major share of a household income.

It is not easy for a struggling economy to provide clean water to all. Developing economies such as Thailand and Singapore have successfully achieved the universal access of sanitation to all, whereas Cambodia has a meagre 28% been able to access it completelywhich Indonesia stands on 57%.These countries are witnessing some major economic shifts, such as increased budget on cure of water borne diseases, rapidly falling productivity, and exponentially decrease in tourism because of growing contamination and fear of pandemic.These repercussions have drastically reduced foreign direct investment to Pakistan. The fragile economic situations in under developing economies such as Bangladesh has lost over 6.3% of GDP to poor sanitation and water borne diseases.Being the largest democracy in South Asia, India too lost over 53.8 billion USD in 2006 alone.

Bridging the gap: Inviting the Private

With increasing technological advancements and economic recovery, Asia has become one of the largest industrial pumping houses. The economy of Asia alone has risen exponentially to 6.9 percent annually and is expected to rise to 8.9 till 2020.With such an economic pace, the doors of corruption remain to be open in Asia. Corruption increases the vulnerability of a project while compromising the ability of a policy maker in making effective policies.

In the water sector alone, corruption too stretches its grip. Malpractices such as intent to fault the meter readings instruments which are used to measure the water flow in, are rapidly practised. With a falsified reading, the customers will be able to pay less. Besides corruption, the wastage of water is another issue that policy makers need to address.Over 40 to 50 percent water is wasted through leaks and unreported thefts.In order combat the wastage of water, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank came together to create a new “pro-poor” policy. Under this policy, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank ties up with civil society organizationsin an effort to reinforce policies in rural and urban water services while conducting proper water management.This new collaboration will attract over two billion USD annually to the region.

This initiative of ADB will bring cheap and easy access of water to the poor, at regional and local levels, increasing oversight and accountability through the involvement of many civil society organizations reducing any chances of corruption in the top. It is also important to understand that economic growth is achieved through privatization, in many reported cases it does hinders in access to water for all.

The project on policy makers should be relied only in the extent of good governance. In many areas, the effective delivery system of water resources is compromised as the initiative was dependent only on one actor. Whereas the need for cooperation and invitation to the private sector cannot be ignored, Asia needs a total investment of 59 billion USD and another 71 billion USD for water supply and improved sanitation, respectively.


It is important for policy makers to address the issue of water scarcity with a multidimensional approach. Irrespective of the fact that water security has been addressed on numerous occasions, policy makers need to first have thorough understanding of water scarcity and the dimensions of its effects. Moreover, political leaders should focus their attention on resolving the crisis through socio-economic initiatives. Undoubtedly, the region hosts some of the major developing economies and power houses, policy leaders from such nations should come together in order to address this issue effectively.

With such rapid growth, private players might monopolise the access of water, which policy makers need to be weary off. Since, the economy of a region plays a crucial role, the livelihoods of the citizens also impact, thus policy makers need to create initiatives that effects the socio-economic development of the region, while addressing the issue of water scarcity. With rapidly increasing population and hence, growing demands, delegates policy makers should create effective policies by involving public and private enterprises.As there are some nations which are in need of adequate supply, there are also some economies thriving with clean water. Thus, policy makers should look out for plans created by other developing economies to combat this issue in their region.

Policy makers should approach other public officials understanding their initiatives and resolution in the region. The overall objective here is to achieve global development through coordination and cooperation with other nations.

Anant Mishra

Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to the United Nations. He has served extensively in United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council along with the Economic and Social Council. He is also a visiting faculty for numerous universities and delivers lectures on political economics and foreign policies.