United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

                      EXPERT GROUP MEETING



                      27 - 30 January 1998

                        Harare, Zimbabwe

                          Cengiz Ertuna
                            Le Huu Ti

                          Paper No. 12 

                        Prepared for the 
            Department of Economic and Social Affairs
                         United Nations 


                          Cengiz Ertuna
                             Le Huu Ti
                      Economic Affairs Officer
                      Water Resources Section
        Environment and Natural Resources Management Division


     Since the adoption of Agenda 21, the development of strategic
approaches to freshwater continues to be a major challenge to the
developing countries in Asia and the Pacific, particularly with respect
to the rapidly increasing population and an increasing complexity of
economic liberalization.  Within such complex context of strategic
approach development, emerging policy issues identified by the recent
ESCAP meetings of experts are reviewed and some experiences of selected
countries in the region, including developed, newly developed and
developing members of ESCAP, are analyzed to illustrate the achievements,
the overall framework of freshwater resources management and the
continuing efforts being made in the region.  The emerging strategic
issues include urgent strategic issues for the regional economic and
social development and strategic issues that need to be tackled for
sustainable management of the water resources.  In that context, a brief
summary of ESCAP activities in the recent years is presented together
with possible future directions of regional activities that need to be
carried out at the national and regional levels in support of the
development of strategic approaches to the implementation of the
freshwater recommendations of Agenda 21.  


     The Asian and Pacific region extends over a total area of about 36
million km2 or 27 per cent of the world's land area (1997).  With nearly
60 per cent of the world's population and over 60 per cent of the world's
irrigated land, the region is more densely populated and more intensively
cultivated than any other region.  The region also displays various types
of physical features, from arid deserts to the most humid areas of the

     There is an extremely uneven distribution of precipitation over
different parts of the region.  For example, precipitation is
exceptionally abundant on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, on the
western slopes of the mountains of India and Indo-China, and on the
islands of Indonesia, which receive annually from 1,500 mm to excess of
3,000 mm of rain and in some locations considerably more.  On the other
hand, almost all the north-western part of the region is extremely dry,
with an annual precipitation of less than 200 mm.  Moreover, not only is
there a sharp difference in the amount of total annual precipitation, but
precipitation also varies considerably from one season to another during
the year.  The rainfall in a large part of the region is characterized
by a monsoon climate pattern with very distinctive dry and rainy seasons. 
During the long dry season, temporary water shortage is experienced in
many river basins, while during the rainy season severe floods may cause
tremendous damage in the same river basins.

     The Asian and Pacific region has several of the world's most
important river systems.  Seven of Asia's largest river systems, namely
the Chang Jiang, Huang He, Mekong, Ayeyarwaddy, Brahmaputra, Ganges and
Indus, have a total drainage area of more than 6 million km2, much of
which is heavily populated, particularly along their lower reaches. 
Therefore, the economic development and the welfare of people in this
region are very dependent on the progress made in the development and
management of its water resources.

     Although the current per capita per year use of 400 m3 appears to
be only 12 per cent of the per capita renewable resources of 3,360 m3 of
the region, only a small portion of the renewable water resources can be
tapped.  This amount is less than the relevant estimates for the other
regions with the exception of West Asia.  Naturally, the per capita
availability has been decreasing with the high growth of population.  By
the year 2000, annual per capita water availability would be considerably
less compared with that in 1950, about one fourth in South Asia, one
third in North China and Mongolia, and forty per cent in south-east
China.  The most critical ten-fold reduction from 7,500 m3 per capita in
1950 is expected to occur in Central Asia, which is now experiencing a
severe water crisis in the Aral Sea Basin.

     The Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific-1997 2/
pointed out that the ESCAP region has made major strides in economic and
social progress during the past half-century and per capita income growth
has been much faster than elsewhere in the world.  It also pointed out
that nevertheless, some 70 per cent of the world■s poor people live in
the ESCAP region.  Although most countries in the region have been able
to reduce the incidence of poverty in terms of the head-count ratio, the
rate of reduction appears to have slowed down since the mid-1980s in many
countries.  However, the overall impressive economic achievements
together with the rapid growth in the population put more and more
pressure on the limited availability of freshwater resources in the
region. Furthermore, the developing countries in the region have
generally made voluntary moves towards policy liberalization with the
expectation that such liberalization would have a favourable long-term
impact on their economies.  Such a policy liberalization and the rapidly
mounting pressure on the freshwater resources have resulted in an
increasing complexity in the management and development of freshwater
resources in the region.  This thus requires the development of strategic
approaches suitable to freshwater management in the region.  Important
strategic issues that need to be considered for such a development are
discussed below.


     At the regional level, strategic issues in freshwater resources
management are conceived in the context of regional economic and social
development and can be described in two groups: (i) urgent strategic
issues, and (ii) other strategic issues required for sustainable

A.  Urgent strategic issues in freshwater resources management

     Urgent strategic issues are those most faced by the developing
countries of the region and closely related to poverty alleviation and
equitable economic development.  A major problem in most countries of
Asia and the Pacific, as in developing countries in other regions, is
inefficiency in the use of water resources.  In major irrigation
countries, the widespread use of flood irrigation leads to low
efficiency, poor crop yields and degradation of the soil.  Water
utilities in the large Asian cities have been notoriously inefficient in
the past, with enormous quantities of water unaccounted for.  Hundreds
of millions of people live at the margins of cities, and uncontrolled
solid and liquid waste disposal into water courses and open areas has put
an enormous burden on the ability of urban water utilities to keep up
with the demand for good quality water.  Industries mainly use "once-
through" processes, with little thought of recycling or in-house water
treatment.  Toxic effluents are often discharged directly into the water
courses, causing existing water supplies to become contaminated.

     Many of the countries in the region have experienced problems in
major project structures and related systems covering dams, canals,
pipelines and equipment which are approaching the end of their useful
life, requiring huge public investments for their renovation.  Most of
the countries and areas in the region expect such problems in the future. 
Preventive maintenance is insufficient, resulting in general degradation
of the hydraulic structures and equipment and frequent failures. 
Interruptions in water supplies not only inconvenience the public but may
result in economic losses as well.

1.   Municipal and domestic water use

     Although domestic water use accounts for only about 7 per cent of
total withdrawals in the region, the rapid growth of urban centres in
many developing countries has put a severe strain on the availability of
safe water in large cities.  The lack of or inadequate availability of
water has in turn become one of the limiting factors in socio-economic
development as an important indicator of the quality of life in urban
areas.  Inadequate operation and maintenance procedures have
traditionally been a major stumbling-block to the improvement of water
supply and sanitation services not only in the urban but also in rural
areas of Asia and the Pacific.  A number of water supply systems in the
region which are lying in disrepair and require heavy expenditure for
rehabilitation reflects this situation.

     The first priority is to improve efficiency in municipal water
utilities, which often have volumes of unaccounted-for water amounting
to up to 50 per cent of total water supplied in some of the largest
cities of Asia.  Some deferment or reduction in the urban water supply
investment requirements could be achieved if the countries were able to
improve the operating efficiency of the existing infrastructure,
particularly in large cities.  Considerable water savings may be achieved
by reducing leakages and wasteful consumption practices.  Leak detection
programmes in Bangkok and Manila, for example, have led to a greatly
decreased quantity of unaccounted-for water usage, allowing for the
postponement of construction of new facilities.  Water pricing, including
effluent charges, is also an important instrument for stimulating
efficient use of water in the household and at commercial establishments.

2.   Agricultural water use

     Irrigation in Asia has been one of the most important activities
involved in the increase of agricultural production since the early
1960s.  Following the rapid growth of the 1960s and 1970s, the pace of
expansion in irrigation slowed considerably, owing to a lack of suitable
sites for reservoirs and opposition to new construction by
environmentalists and local farmers who could be displaced.  Further
increases in yields and production in the region will therefore have to
come from increased efficiency and more rational use of water on existing
irrigated land, and on rainfed agricultural land, rather than from
expansion of irrigated areas.

     In the region, traditional agricultural water policies have
concentrated on supplying water for irrigation to meet national
development goals.  In many countries the methods of irrigation employed
lead to low efficiency, poor crop yields and loss of fertility of the
soil.  There has not been much effort to promote the efficient use or
reduction of wastage of irrigation water.  The irrigation efficiency
level for most schemes in Asia is between 30 and 40 per cent.  As a
result, the ratio of actual irrigated area to planned irrigable areas is
also low, especially on large-scale projects.  If the water wasted were
made available for use, many water supply expansion projects could be
postponed and much larger areas of agricultural land could be irrigated. 
Common problems are: inadequate planning and design; deficiencies in on-
farm irrigation and drainage facilities; and poor operation and

     Urgent action is required to improve on-farm management in countries
with a poor record of efficient usage.  This would include: education and
training of extension staff; a clearly defined division of
responsibilities between farmers and irrigation authorities;
strengthening of water and soil management research under irrigation and
rainfed conditions; monitoring and evaluation of irrigation performance;
and establishment of realistic water pricing policies to reduce wastage
of water in agriculture.  Implementation of such measures will vastly
increase the yields, reduce the water use, keep the systems functioning
well, reduce problems, such as salinity and water logging, increase
incomes and reduce investment requirements.

3.   Industrial water use

     In developed countries with an established industrial base and water
pollution laws strictly enforced, industrial water demands are relatively
stable or even decreasing, owing to the introduction of water-saving
technologies.  In the developing countries of Asia, however, water
demands in industry are rising rapidly, with increased concentrations of
effluents being released.  Direct investment from industrialized
countries sometimes involves the establishment of polluting industries
in developing Asian countries which have less strict controls on
pollution than the home country.  Many industrial products require the
use of large quantities of water for each unit of output, and the rate
of water withdrawals per unit output is very high in the region,
indicating considerable inefficiency in the production processes. 
Furthermore, there are great variations in water withdrawals among
industries producing the same product.  Therefore, there is scope for
increasing the efficiency of water use by attaching regulations related
to the amounts of water to be used per unit of production and disposal
of effluents, and also by offering incentives.

B.  Other strategic freshwater issues on sustainable development

1.   Water resources assessment and quality monitoring

     In order to improve the management of water resources, there is a
need for greater knowledge about their quantity and quality.  In many
countries/areas of the Asia and Pacific region, there are considerable
inadequacies in the availability of data on their water resources,
specially on groundwater and water  quality.  There is a need for regular
and systematic collection of hydrological, hydrometeorological and
hydrogeological data to be accompanied by an adequate system for
processing quantitative and qualitative data on various types of water
bodies.  In order to be able to collect, analyze and disseminate reliable
information on water resources, it is necessary to strengthen the
existing mechanisms.  In some countries, different agencies collect water
resources data with no coordination between them at all.  There is a
serious need for strengthening and coordinating arrangements in
collection and processing of data and for improvement of data gathering
networks as well as for improvements of monitoring systems.  An inventory
of the country's water resources, including quality of water at each
source, needs to be prepared as soon as adequate data become available.

2.   Other water management issues

     In many countries of the region national water policies have been
developed some of which have been translated into national master water
plans.  In several countries, including China and India master plans have
been prepared at both the  national and provincial levels.  However,
there is a serious need to improve management of the water resources in
order to satisfy the freshwater requirements for sustainable development
of the countries of the region.  Traditionally, water resources
management has been supply oriented, without paying sufficient attention
to options for influencing water demand and increasing water use
efficiency.  The emerging trend is to take concerted or integrated action
towards conservation of water resources.  The holistic management of
water as a finite and vulnerable resource and the integration of sectoral
water plans and programmes within the framework of national economic and
social objectives are therefore of utmost importance to the countries of
the region.  Consequently, there is a need for the national governments
of the region to adopt policies and methodologies for integrated
management of their water resources based on comprehensive ecosystem
assessment, taking into consideration that the main task is the
allocation of available resources among competing uses in an
environmentally-sound, economically efficient and equitable manner in
order to satisfy the present and future demands of society for water and
water-related goods and services.  

     Watershed management is an area which needs immediate attention. 
Denuded watersheds have given rise to higher flood peaks and lower
discharges during the dry season.  Perennial flow patterns of rivers have
changed over time.  Erosion processes have increased, and higher sediment
flows threaten the survival of costly big reservoirs, particularly in
China and India.  Vegetative cover in the catchments needs to be restored
by reforestation and conservation.  It is feared that unless the threats
of deforestation, waterlogging and salinization are checked, large
schemes may end up with only marginal benefits.

     There is a need for strengthening of the international cooperation
in the region in the field of water resources management.  The experience
accumulated by some countries in the efficient management of water
resources has to be made available to other countries.  Cooperative
arrangements are particularly important for the joint management of
transboundary water resources by all riparian states concerned.

3.   Institutional and legal frameworks

     One of the major obstacles to efficient water resources management
in the region is the sheer number of public, semi-public and private
agencies involved in the exploitation of the resource.  Government
agencies dealing with water supply include ministries of agriculture,
health, rural development and industry, while semi-autonomous water
utilities in some cities provide municipal water supply.  Groundwater
resources may be exploited by mineral resources agencies or semi-public
agricultural cooperatives.  In some countries, each river basin authority
manages the water resources of one hydrological basin.  Various agencies
dealing with different water uses often carry out their activities in
isolation.  In addition, in many countries of the region, private
businesses, industries and farmers are pumping both surface water and
groundwater with very little overall regulation.  This uncontrolled use
of water has led to imbalances in the hydrological cycle, shortages for
some essential uses, a lowering of the water table in many areas, salt-
water intrusion and increasing costs for exploitation.  The lack of a
clear division of responsibilities between organizations for urban and
rural water supply, between central and provincial or local activities
and between public and private sector agencies results in duplication of
efforts without achieving national development goals.

     Legislation, regulating ownership, use and protection of water
resources support the national water policy statements in many countries
of the region.  Such legislation cover at least the ownership of and the
right to use surface water, as well as the protection of surface-water
quality.  Several countries, including Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, the
Republic of Korea, the Republic of Palau and Sri Lanka, have indicated
that their water legislation had not yet been formulated to regulate
ownership or the right to use groundwater.  This may contribute to
uncontrolled exploitation of groundwater in many areas, causing a decline
in the water table and land subsidence.  In many countries, such as
China, India and the Philippines, water is defined as public property. 
In these countries and others, national water policies emphasize the
multi-purpose use of water and provide for the coordination of the
development of water resources.

4.   Demand management and other economic issues

     As mentioned earlier, demand management has not been practiced
widely in the region.  There is a strong need for realistic alternative
measures to increase the efficiency of water utilization through demand
management rather than providing more water.  Unless water prices are
raised significantly and effluent fees are introduced, there are no
economic incentives for industries to save water.  Through enforcing
effluent standards and providing subsidies to reduce waste loads,
pollution levels could also be significantly reduced.   The industrial
sector could also be motivated to use appropriately treated municipal
waste water in processes which do not require good quality water.  In
India, for instance, industrial enterprises in the water-short city of
Madras have been willing to buy treated waste water from the city
authorities for reuse in their factories.

     In most of the irrigated lands of the region, there has not been
much effort to reduce wastage of irrigation water through pricing
mechanisms.  The countries have only recently attempted to collect water
fees for irrigation, mainly under conditions of water shortage.  If
properly implemented, however, pricing policies could reduce the wastage
of resources by ensuring the development of optimum-sized water systems. 
The difficulty of implementing irrigation pricing policies in Asia is
that, except for tubewell or pumping projects, it is very difficult to
assess the quantity of water actually consumed in most irrigation areas. 
Moreover, the majority of farmers may be unwilling to pay for an
unreliable and inadequate supply for water in some of the large
irrigation projects because of the low level of revenue collected,
operation and maintenance have been inadequate and systems have
deteriorated, resulting in unreliable water supply.  This is a vicious
cycle found in many developing countries of the Asian and Pacific region.


A.  An overall view of experiences in the region

     Towards integrated water resources management, as articulated in
Agenda 21, integration of sectoral water plans and programmes within the
framework of national economic and social policy, as a dynamic,
interactive, iterative and multisectoral approach to water resources
management is gaining recognition within the region.  For example, the
goal of sustainable development is implicit in the current Eighth Five
Year Plan of India (1992-1997), which underlines the significance of
ensuring a coordinated and integrated governmental action for conserving
nature and ensuring sustainable use of natural resources through a
participatory process.  In China's Agenda 21, it is recognized that the
realization of objectives of other fields of governmental planning
becomes increasingly dependent on successful water resources management.

     In line with parts of Agenda 21 related to freshwater resources,
most of the countries of the region have adopted or revised their
national water policies, reflecting the priority attached to water
resources development within the national socio-economic development
plans. For example, Indonesia undertook a major policy review of its
water resources policy during the period of 1991-1994 to meet the needs
of development and to accommodate the changing environmental and resource
requirements and society's aspirations.  The policy review took into
consideration the Agenda 21 approach to deal holistically with water
resources management issues and the four main principles of the Dublin
Statement.  In Pakistan, a comprehensive national water policy is
expected to be formulated to provide an appropriate framework for water
resources management by 1998.

     In a number of the countries of the region, national water resources
policies have been translated into action programmes or master water
plans.  The scope of these activities ranges from more sector-oriented
plans, such as improvement of water quality, to more comprehensive
development plans.  Following are some examples from countries in the
Asian-Pacific region:

     - In Bhutan, a Power System Master Plan (1994) has been formulated
to identify a number of possible sites for hydropower plants.  These
sites have been selected employing technical, economic and environmental

     - In Bangladesh, a National Water Plan II for the period 1990-2010
has been prepared as an updated continuation of the National Water Plan
which covered the period between 1985 and 2005.

     - In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Second Five-Year Socio-
Economic and Cultural Development Plan (1995-1999) includes a number of
objectives related to the environment and water resources.  Also specific
targets have been set for various water resources development projects.

     - Maldives has developed an action plan in the field of
environmental management which gives priority to the development of
national policy guidelines concerning wise use of groundwater resources.

     In several other countries of the region, the preparatory work for
the formulation or revision of national action plans has been initiated,
often with the assistance from international organizations.   In
Mongolia, there is the intention to revise the Master Water Plan
elaborated in the first half of the 1970s, in order to reflect adequately
the new social and economic realities of the country's transition period
to a market economy.  In Sri Lanka, it is envisaged to formulate an
action plan for comprehensive water resources management that will
synthesize the results of the subsectoral plans at the national planning
level.  The action plan is expected to have a positive effect on the
quality of investments in irrigation, water supply, power generation and
environment protection subsectors, and to strengthen their linkage with
national development goals.

     The concept of management of water resources within a river basin
or sub-basin context, facilitating integration of land- and water-related
aspects, has been widely applied in the region.  In Australia, China and
Japan, water management has been already been exercised at the river
basin level to a certain extent for a number of rivers of national
significance.  In India, the national water policy asserts that water
resources planning be undertaken for a hydrological unit, such as a
drainage basin or sub-basin.  In Indonesia, basin institutions for water
resources management, including for both planning and operation, have
been introduced recently in some river basins, but have yet to become
fully functional.

     Basin-wide approach might be quite beneficial to the management of
a large number of transboundary water systems in the region if the
riparians could agree to cooperate for formulation and implementation of
development plans.   For example, Indicative Plan for the development of
land, water and related resources of the Lower Mekong basin was prepared
in 1970 by the then Committee for Coordination of Investigations of the
Lower Mekong Basin, comprising Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. 
The Plan was revised in 1987, and at present a number of specific
projects identified in the Plan are being implemented under the auspices
of the Mekong River Commission, which was set up in April 1995 as a
replacement to the above mentioned Committee.  

     In Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan
and Uzbekistan reached in 1992 an agreement on joint management of
transboundary waters in the Aral Sea Basin, and established the river
basin authorities for the Amu-Darya and the Syr-Darya.   Rivers, which
are the main tributaries of the Aral Sea.  These authorities have been
entrusted with the main function of  allocation of the scarce water
resources available to the riparian countries, also taking into account
the need to release a specified amount of water into the Aral Sea. 
Bangladesh and India have recently reached an agreement on the sharing
the Ganga/Ganges waters at Farakka.  There are several other
transboundary rivers in the region, where the respective riparian
countries undertake jointly development and management activities in the
field of water and water-related resources.

     The old problem of fragmentation of institutional responsibilities
for water resources development, management and conservation among
sectoral agencies, central and provincial authorities, which had been a
major obstacle to the introduction of integrated water resources
management, has been alleviated to a certain extent in several countries
of the region by creating some institutional mechanisms for coordination. 
In China, India, Thailand and some other countries, there are interagency
coordination committees and groups composed of high ranking
representatives of various agencies and ministries dealing with water
resources issues.  However, the coordination of activities on water
resources development, conservation and protection needs further
improvement, particularly at lower administrative levels.  This is
particularly important in the light of the on-going exercise on
decentralization of responsibilities in the water sector, which is taking
place in several countries of the region.  

     Although most countries of the region have adopted water legislation
regulating to a certain extent the ownership, use and protection of water
resources, there is a need in some countries, especially in the countries
with economies in transition, to review the existing water legislation
in order to incorporate relevant provisions associated with the economic
value of water, rational use of finite water resources, protection of the
aquatic environment, etc.  For example, in Lao PDR, a Water Law has been
drafted recently and submitted for approval to the National Assembly. 
The proposed law aims to streamline policies on water resources
assessment, planning, use, quality and protection, and designates a
central administrator for water resources management.  In Mongolia, the
new Water Law that became effective from 5 June 1995, incorporates water
management concepts such as water resources development in the context
of sustainability, recognition of EIA procedures and some others. In
Central Asian states, water legislation is also being revised

B.  An analysis of the experiences in the development of strategic

     The experiences in the development of strategic approaches to
freshwater resources development and management in the region are rich. 
Such richness in experiences reflects the diversity of the economic,
social, cultural, political and environmental conditions in the
countries.  The experiences also reflect the priority issues identified
and urgent needs in water resources management conceived by the
respective Governments.  In general, these experiences can be viewed from
two distinct viewpoints: (i) the principal driving force for such a
strategic approach, and (ii) the process leading to a firm development
of strategic approaches.

1.   Towards an effective principal driving force

     In most countries, it is recognized that the Government plays the
principal driving force in a strategic approach to freshwater resources
development and management.  Several experiences in the region are
available in this respect.  Within the scope of this pap