Access to water: Asia-Pacific’s silent crisis

Nearly 1.7 billion people in the Asia and Pacific region do not have access to improved drinking water and sanitation .This lack of access is a “silent crisis” that has claimed more casualties through illness than any conflict.

The World Water Development Report 2015 brings together the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and 30 other UN-Water Members and 37 partners to offer data and information aimed at policy and decision-makers, inside and outside the water sector. ESCAP’s contribution in the report demonstrates the linkages between water related disasters, urbanization and the effects of ground water irrigation in our region.

Focusing in on Asia-Pacific, the report shows that progress has been made towards universal access, with the percentage of people without quality supplies falling from 27 per cent in 1990 to eight per cent by 2012. However, about 2.7 billion people are projected to live in urban parts of this area by the end of this year, placing considerable pressure on the resource base of the region’s cities and undermining urban sustainable development efforts.

A further challenge noted by our experts in the report is the water stress of agriculture. Groundwater irrigation is one of the main sources of income in countries like Bangladesh, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan, and these countries are jointly responsible for nearly half the world’s total groundwater use. However, over-exploitation of groundwater beyond sustainable limits in dry regions carries the added risk of threatening agricultural production and people’s abilities to earn an income and feed their families.

Our contribution to the report also considers the potential dangers of water and water-related natural disasters against the backdrop of Asia-Pacific’s growing disaster toll. The region accounts for 90 per cent of total global of water-related disaster deaths, claiming more than 17,000 lives in 2013 alone. The region also suffered economic losses worth more than $51.5 billion dollars.

In this vein, Governments have been working towards making their countries and societies more resilient, but much more work is needed. In many countries, national policies are not well implemented, measures to protect the most vulnerable are often lacking, and institutional capacity to handle disasters is at times weak.

As part of its work on effective water resource management, ESCAP offers support to governments in achieving universal access to safe and affordable water and sanitation, putting the issue at the heart of building a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future.

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