Water is the most crucial natural resource for proliferation of life and human development. It is used virtually for all the human needs. Water grows crops, produces electricity and it is used to refine oil and gas, as well as to mine coal and uranium. Simply put, water security, together with food security and energy security, is ultimately tied to human security. Water scarcity affects countries across Asia and a large share of the global population is living in water-stressed conditions. Asia is the world’s driest continent and also one of the most water polluted regions, as rivers and lakes are becoming polluted due to the population influx. While the region is facing water shortage and pollution, the world’s fastest-growing demand for water is in Asia in order to satisfy the needs of a growing population and economy. The UN suggests that every person requires 20-50 litres of water a day just to ensure their basic needs for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Yet, there are places in the region where not even a litre of water is available for any of these purposes. According to the Asian Development Bank report, three out of four countries in Asia are facing a severe lack of water, and some are in danger of a crisis unless steps are taken to improve water management. In China, for example, 500 million people are without clean drinking water. Other countries in Asia like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cambodia are facing their own share of water shortage and pollution. A glance at the interactive map tells you that almost every country in the region is either suffering from water shortage or pollution.
In the last two decades, more than 1.7 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region have gained access to safe water. Yet, there is acute water shortage in many parts of the region. No developing country in the region is having reliable availability of clean water. Growing population, pollution, expanding industrialising economies, water-related disasters and climate change are some of the key reasons for the shortage of clean water. The National Water Security Index developed by the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) measures how far countries have progressed to secure reliable supplies of clean water. The index combines five dimensions of water security, measured by key dimensions (KD), so besides household water security there is economic water security, urban water security, environmental water security and resilience to water-related disasters. Each of these five dimensions are ranked at one to five on the National Water Security Index, with one being very insecure - what is called "hazardous" - and five serving as a model. As the graph shows, no country in the region made it to level 5 on the water security index. India, along with Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Pakistan sits at the hazardous stage of the national water security - a stage identified by the Asian Development Bank as a harmony of some movement on the policy and legislation side, but absolutely trifling level of public investment, regulation and enforcement. Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China and Laos are on level 2 with "inadequate" rates of achievement. The level 3 list countries, which include Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Singapore, are building capacities to secure water for their people.
In Asia, more than 60% of the population does not have secure water supply piped to their houses. Even though there has been progress in terms of providing drinking water in Asia, when you look at the number of households that have piped water, the figures are dismal. In Bangladesh, for example, which is one of the most populous countries in Asia, only 6 percent of the population has access to piped water. According to the Asian Water Development Outlook 2013, the majority of the population living in Asia does not have access to a secure household water supply. As the graph indicates, people in Bangladesh followed by Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia, Laos, India and Pakistan have the lowest access to piped water sources. Philippines, Thailand and China have made progress in providing people access to piped water. South Korea, Malaysia and Japan are leading in providing piped water to its population. In Singapore, every household has access to tap water. The data underlines wide disparities in access to safe water, indicating that the region still has substantial investments to make to provide people the most basic facility – clean water.
Water, in many ways, fuels economic growth and progress. It grows our food, generates power and cools our energy-generating plants. Just as the reliable supply of safe water is vital for individual households, water is essential for industry, agriculture, energy production and other human development related areas. In short, national economies are more secure when the key economic sectors are water-secure. The Economic Water Security Index measures how countries are ensuring the productive use of water to sustain their economic growth in food production, industry, and energy. The index is a composite of three sub-indexes which includes the agricultural water security sub-index, the industrial water security sub-index and the energy water security sub-index. Each sub-index is evaluated on a scale of 1–10, with 1 being insecure and 10 being secure. The maximum score for the index is 30 (10 points for each of the 3 sub-indexes that make up the index). As the figure shows, economic water security is more uniform across the region than other key dimensions. Cambodia and Bangladesh have the lowest economic water security (14.22 out of 30), while Malaysia scores best in economic water security (21.33 out of 30).
From China’s yellow River to India’s Yamuna River to Indonesia’s Citarum River, Asia’s rivers are increasingly polluted as untreated sewage and agricultural runoff discharges into the water. Given Asia’s population and economic growth, the health of rivers is worsening, resulting in all kinds of waste from mills and factories, home waste and sewage pouring into the rivers almost every day, making their water unfit for human consumption. The key dimension to assess the status of the water related environment of river is based on four factors which include river size, river’s proximity to coast, population density of the area and agricultural density. Larger rivers are generally in poorer health than smaller rivers, mostly due to increased human activities leading to higher waste and pollution loads and greater water extraction. Similarly rivers in proximity to the coast are generally found to have a significantly better-than-average river health index. Thirdly, less population nearby rivers normally means low waste pouring into river. River health has also a strongly negative correlation with the intensity of agriculture in the basin. Basins with less than 25% of the area used for agricultural operations are in better health than those rivers whose catchment areas are used for agriculture.