The Asia-Pacific region comprises of the Member States of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) that includes 62 Governments, 58 of which are in the region and a geographical scope that stretches from Turkey in the west to the Pacific island nation of Kiribati in the east, and from the Russian Federation in the north to New Zealand in the south.
The region is extremely diverse, with seven of the world’s most populous countries and many of its smallest nations, several of which are located in the Pacific. Between 1987 and 2007, the region’s population grew from just under 3 billion to about 4 billion people. Average population density, at 111 people per km2, is the highest in the world.
China and India alone recorded almost half of world’s progress, with increases of 457 million and 522 million, respectively since 1990. This is not surprising, however, since the inhabitants of these two countries represent 46% of the developing world’s population. Of note are the impressive gains in Eastern Asia, which added 23 percentage points, and the small decline in coverage in the Caucasus and Central Asia and in Oceania.
Number of people who gained access to improved drinking water sources from 1990 to 2010 by MDG region (millions)
Source: Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation. 2012 update.
UNICEF/WHO JMP, March 2012
When analysing the trends in the use of different types of water sources from 1990 to 2010, two clear groupings emerge. The first is a set of regions within the Asian and the Pacific region in which the use of piped water to a dwelling, plot or yard is low (30% or less). It includes Oceania, Southern Asia and South-Eastern Asia.
Although gains in the use of piped water on premises have been made in these regions, progress is mostly in the ‘other improved’ category of water sources. Of note is the fact that 65% of the populations in Southern Asia are using other improved sources rather than piped water on premises.
The second group consists of Eastern Asia and Western Asia, where at least 70% of the population are using piped water on premises. Eastern Asia (dominated by China) has seen a dramatic increase in piped water supplies since 1990, gaining 35 percentage points in coverage in this category in 20 years. Eastern Asia is also the region with the most dramatic increase in the use of improved drinking water sources overall, starting at 68% in 1990 and moving to 91% coverage in 2010. This represents a 23 percentage-point increase, far higher than any other region.
Though they are on track to reach the target, China and India combined are still home to 216 million people without access to improved water supplies. This represents 28% of the global population that remains unserved.
Many countries are off track in meeting the MDG sanitation target, including several of the most populous countries in Asia. The greatest progress was achieved in Eastern which added 39 percentage points in coverage between 1990 and 2010. Unlike drinking water, no regions have experienced decreases in coverage and Southern Asia, where sanitation coverage in 2010 was 1.7 times higher than in 1990. In contrast, progress was slowest in Western Asia, and no improvement was achieved in Oceania over the 20-year period.
Progress in China and India is highlighted, since these two countries represent such a large proportion of their regional populations. While China has contributed to more than 95% of the progress in Eastern Asia, the same is not true for India in Southern Asia. Together, China and India contributed just under half of the global progress towards the MDG target in sanitation.
Southern Asia still struggle with low coverage of 41%. In Southern Asia, the proportion of the population using shared or unimproved facilities is much lower, and open defecation is the highest of any region. Although the number of people resorting to open defecation in Southern Asia has decreased by 110 million people since 1990, it is still practised by 41% of the region’s population, representing 692 million people. Open defecation is highest in rural areas of Southern Asia, where it is practised by 55% of the population.
Shared sanitation is predominantly an urban phenomenon which is most evident in Eastern Asia.
Number of people who use shared sanitation facility in Asia and the Pacific in 2010 (millions)
Source: Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation. 2012 update.
UNICEF/WHO JMP, March 2012
The many threats to water resources in the Asia-Pacific region reveal a complex picture and raise many concerns. The hotspots are countries, areas or ecosystems that have overlapping challenges such as poor access to water and sanitation, limited water availability, deteriorating water quality, and increased exposure to climate change and water-related disasters.
The Asia-Pacific region is extremely dynamic, undergoing rapid urbanization, economic growth, industrialization, and extensive agricultural development. Although these are desirable trends in many ways, they also represent drivers that are affecting the region’s capacity to meet its socio-economic water development needs.
Internal migration and urbanization are driving the rise in the number of megacities. The region has some of the world’s fastest-growing cities and between 2010 and 2025 a predicted 700 million people will be added to the growing numbers requiring municipal water services.
Since 2000, the Asia-Pacific’s GDP growth rate has surpassed 5%. Agriculture consumes an average of about 80% of the region’s renewable water resources, but it is faced with the challenge of increasing food production in degraded ecosystems. In addition, the irrigation sector is generally inefficient, and demand-management mechanisms are ineffective where they exist. Water quality also suffers from the impacts of industrial development, urbanization and agricultural intensification.
Water competition has led to increased water conflicts in the region, particularly over the past two decades. Conflicts within countries have dominated since 1990, with more than 120,000 water-related disputes in China alone during this period. Water management efforts and resources in India often focus on ‘conflict management’ between different states. Direct conflict most commonly arises at the local level, and is often based on the construction of an ‘ill-thought-out’ dam, ambiguous water withdrawal rights or deteriorating water quality. The allocation of increasingly scarce water resources, however, is the principal cause of water conflicts, with the most important challenge in the region’s socioeconomic development being to balance different water uses and to manage their economic, social and environmental impacts. In water-stressed countries, there are competing demands for water for urban, industrial, agriculture and ecosystems upon which livelihoods depend. In addition, water disputes arise over inter-basin water transfers, which have environmental, social and financial challenges.
The Asia-Pacific is the world’s most vulnerable region with respect to natural disasters, which undermine economic development to varying degrees. Increased climate variability and extreme weather conditions are expected to severely affect the region, with floods and droughts predicted to increase in both magnitude and frequency. The Pacific’s small island developing states (SIDS) are particularly vulnerable to environmental natural hazards such as tropical cyclones, typhoons and earthquakes turning into disasters. One major tsunami or tropical cyclone can negate years of development effort.
Between 1990 and 2008, significant achievements were made in meeting the MDG on access to safe drinking water. But progress has generally been slower in providing improved sanitation, except in North-East and South-East Asia.
On safe drinking water, Asia and the Pacific region as a whole appears to have been doing well owing to the good performance of a few countries. Indeed it is an early achiever. Unfortunately, this disguises the fact that of the 48 countries with sufficient data to calculate a trend, 20 are off track. This is reflected in diverging trajectories between countries. Thus in the early 1990s Viet Nam, Mongolia and Myanmar had similar levels of access, but while Viet Nam is an early achiever and Mongolia is on track, Myanmar is making only slow progress. Nevertheless, most off-track countries could reach the target by increasing their access rates by less than 2 percentage points per year; only Lao PDR and Papua New Guinea require more. About 480 million people still lacked access to improved water resources in 2008.
For sanitation, progress has been slower with 1.9 billion still lacking access to improved sanitation in 2008. In the early 1990s, of the 48 countries for which trend data are available, 18 countries were offering basic sanitation to less than half their populations. Since then only four of these countries have made satisfactory progress: Viet Nam and Myanmar have reached their targets and Lao PDR and Timor-Leste are on track. A total of 30 countries in the region are off track. Nevertheless, nine of these countries could reach the target by extending access by less than one percentage point per year. Other countries including India require greater acceleration – though if India did meet the target another 290 million more people would gain access. Even when access is established, natural disasters and functionality levels can significantly influence whether or not drinking water and sanitation systems can continue to respond to the region’s needs. The Asia-Pacific is highly vulnerable to extreme events and climate change is expected to increase climate variability and the magnitude and frequency of floods and droughts.
Asian Water Development Outlook 2013. Measuring Water Security in Asia and the Pacific
Asian Development Bank (ADB). March 2013
This second edition of the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) provides a quantitative and comprehensive view of water security in the countries of Asia and the Pacific. By focusing on critical water issues, AWDO 2013 provides finance and planning leaders with recommendations on policy actions to improve water governance and guidance on investments to increase their country's water security. AWDO 2013 is presented in three parts.
Greater Mekong Subregion Atlas of the Environment. 2nd edition
Asian Development Bank (ADB). December 2012
In 1992, Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam established the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Cooperation Program with the aim of strengthening economic linkages between them and to foster the achievement of common policy goals. This second edition of the atlas illustrates the diversity of the subregion’s natural environment, progress made by the GMS countries over the past decades, and the need to address the increasing risks that they face.
The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2012: Reducing Vulnerability and Exposure to Disasters
United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). October 2012
The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2012 provides an analysis of the impact of disasters on Asian and Pacific countries between 1970 to 2011, and discusses the twin challenge faced by the region of increasing exposure of its people and economic assets, and heightened vulnerabilities experienced by the poor and other disadvantaged groups to disasters. Pressures resulting from rapid urban development and economic growth has resulted in people and economic activities expanding into increasingly exposed and hazard-prone land. It also highlights that smaller economies, those that have less diversified economic structures, and countries with high fiscal deficits, show greater strains of vulnerability even when faced with relatively small-scale disasters. The Report discusses how the poor or most vulnerable are often at risk, as they are increasingly forced to live in fragile or hazardous areas. Several recommendations are made on how to reduce this growing exposure and vulnerability including the need to strengthen the socio-economic evidence base for more informed policy making and enhanced integration of disaster risk reduction into broader development issues, a minimum level of universal social protection and improved land use planning.
Irrigation in Southern and Eastern Asia in figures. AQUASTAT Survey – 2011
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). August 2012
This AQUASTAT report presents the most recent information available on water resources and their use in the 22 countries of the Southern and Eastern Asia region, and analyses the changes that have occurred since the first AQUASTAT survey in 1999. It gives a more detailed description of four transboundary river basins in the region, highlighting the different levels of cooperation and the agreements between countries located in the same river basin: the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna basin, the Indus basin, the Mekong basin and the Salween basin.
Key indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012. Special chapter: Green Urbanization in Asia
Asian Development Bank (ADB). August 2012
This special chapter of the report “Key indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012” focuses on the environmental challenges Asia faces as it urbanizes. It begins by highlighting special features of Asia’s urbanization. The chapter then discusses the environmental challenges associated with urbanization, covering topics such as access to water and sanitation, loss of natural ecosystems, and urban slums and poverty. Before concluding, the chapter offers a number of evidence-based policy options that can help achieve a win-win scenario of urban growth with improvement in the environment.
Grow in Concert with Nature. Sustaining East Asia's Water Resources through Green Water Defense
World Bank Water Partnership Program (WPP). June 2012
This study assesses advances in management practices, institutional and technological innovations for managing water scarcity sustainably under a changing climate. The report has the following specific objectives, reflected in the structure of the report: 1) To provide a brief overview of the status of water resources in East Asia, including the diversity of climates, the extent of physical water scarcity and potential changing climate impacts; 2) To summarize major management measures being implemented in selected countries where water is, or has the potential to become scarce, and how they fit in the green water defense concept; 3) To document key lessons learned from best practices in managing scarce water resources from experiences in the country case studies; and 4) To provide a roadmap for East Asian countries to apply the GWD approach in addressing water scarcity issues and improving water security.
Accelerating Equitable Achievement of the MDGs. Closing Gaps in Health and Nutrition Outcomes. Asia-Pacific Regional MDG Report 2011/12
Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). February 2012
This report focuses on disparities in MDG achievement within and between countries, to address major bottlenecks holding back MDG progress in Asia and the Pacific region. This edition looks especially at the wide gaps in the goals related to health and nutrition, where the region is particularly under-performing. The safe drinking water and basic sanitation targets are also considered and reported. The document is a resource which policy makers, development practitioners and other stakeholders should find useful in addressing the remaining challenges in achieving the MDGs in the Asia and the Pacific region.
MDGs Success Stories from Asia and the Pacific. Accelerating Achievement of the MDGs
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2010
This publication is a compilation of success stories and good practices from Asia and the Pacific, collected by the United Nations Millennium Campaign as its contribution to the MDG Review process in September 2010 in New York. It includes 15 short case studies, which feature innovative and successful regional initiatives which have made tangible impact on the MDGs. Each case study attempts to answer the following three questions: What has worked? Why? How can it be scaled up or replicated effectively elsewhere? Sanitation is specifically covered in case “Improved Sanitation in Cambodia” and the issue of access to water is addressed in case “Grow to Feed – Improving Food Security”.
"Our shared challenge in Asia and the Pacific is to control both the growing rate of exposure and rising vulnerability. Exposure to hazards has multiplied as urban centres grow and people and economic activities expand into increasingly exposed and hazard-prone land. It is also a concern that smaller economies, those that have less diversified economic structures, and countries with high fiscal deficits, show greater strains of vulnerability even when faced with relatively small-scale disasters."
Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNESCAP
“Many cities are on the coasts, vulnerable to storms, inundation and sea level rise. More than a billion people in Asia live within 100 kilometres of the sea, and two-thirds of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean live within 200 kilometres. Too many people live on flood plains, others above earthquake fault lines. Some settle downstream from treeless areas, with little buffer against the elements. The risk of disaster quietly accumulates. And, while natural hazards menace everyone, the poor are by far the most vulnerable.”
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General
Sanitation for All: How do we get there? Asian Development Bank (ADB), 2011
Duration: 1min51sec Kickoff video shown during the opening ceremony of the “ADB and Partners Sanitation Dialogue: Making Sanitation Business” on 23 May 2011 in Manila, Philippines.
Water for All
Asian Development Bank (ADB), 2011
Duration: 2min02sec A video of Asia´s present water crisis and choice for improvement.
Asian Development Bank (ADB), 2010
Duration: 1min37sec Arjun Thapan, ADB´s Special Senior Advisor to the President on Infrastructure and Water, breaks down the principal, interrelated factors of Asia´s water crisis in this interview.
Bhutan: Tsunami from the Sky
UNTV 21st Century, 2010
Bhutan In Bhutan, Himalayan glaciers are melting due to climate change, with lakes forming within the glaciers. Some of these glacier lakes are in imminent danger of bursting. This documentary explores the possible impacts on local livelihoods and adaptation measures being carried out in the region.