Hundreds of millions in South Asia face growing water stress, UN report warns

6 February 2009 – Hundreds of millions of South Asians face growing water stress due to over exploitation, climate change and inadequate cooperation among countries, which are threatening river basins that sustain about half of the region’s 1.5 billion people, the United Nations warns in a new report.

South Asia is home to one-fourth of the global population, including some of the world’s poorest people, who have access to less than 5 per cent of the planet’s freshwater resources, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

“Freshwater Under Threat: South Asia,” a new report produced by UNEP and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), examines the state of freshwater resources in selected major river basins in the region, identifies key threats to water resources development and management, and assesses the challenges in coping with these threats.

The three transboundary river basins assessed in the report include the largest in South Asia: the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river basin (which spans Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal), the Indus river basin (in Afghanistan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan) and the Helmand river basin (which covers Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan).

“Water is a vital resource for people’s health and livelihoods, especially in South Asia where these three transboundary river basins sustain about half of the region’s 1.5 billion people, and some of the poorest people in the world,” said Young-Woo Park, UNEP Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific, as he launched the report today at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit.

The report calls for urgent policy attention and more research into the impact of climate change on water resources, infrastructure and management practices, as well as improved cooperation among the affected countries and integrated basin management.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner stressed the need to invest in the sustainable management of these vital river basins.

“These river systems are major economic arteries as well as social and environmental assets for South Asia,” he stated. “Investing in sustainable management is thus an investment in the current and future prosperity of Asia and will be a central and determining factor underpinning the transition to a resource efficient, sustainable green economy.”

The report is the first of a series produced by UNEP that covers three sub-regions, North-East Asia, South Asia and South-East Asia. A similar assessment was completed for selected river basins in Africa.

They are intended to complement the efforts of Governments, non-governmental organizations and development agencies engaged in improving the status of water systems in Asia.

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