Water & Water Management
The availability of safe water is a major global challenge for the future owing to a rapidly growing population and unsustainable consumption pattern, increasingly urbanised populations, rapid shifts in land use and climate change. Global water demand has tripled in the past 50 years and just 2.5% of the world’s water resources are freshwater of which only 0.4% are available and accessible for use. Water is intrinsically linked to the most pressing challenges we face today, including food security and safety, health, climate change, economic growth, and poverty alleviation.
The United Nations projects that by 2025, half of all countries worldwide will face water stress or outright shortages. By 2050, three out of four people around the globe could be affected by water scarcity. Water problems in Asia today are severe—one out of five people (700 million) does not have access to safe drinking water and half of the region’s population (1.8 billion people) lacks access to basic sanitation. Although Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population, it has less freshwater, i.e. 3,920 cubic meters per person per year, than any other continent. As population growth and urbanization rates in the region rise, the stress on Asia’s water resources is rapidly intensifying. Climate change is expected to worsen the situation. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by 2050, more than one billion people in Asia alone are projected to experience negative impacts on water resources as a result of climate change. Experts agree that reduced access to freshwater will lead to a cascading set of consequences, including impaired food production, the loss of livelihood security, large-scale migration within and across borders, and increased economic and geopolitical tensions and instabilities.
Within ASEAN, overall water demand is expected to increase by one-third by 2015. Although most Southeast Asian countries do not experience physical water scarcity, seasonal water scarcity can be an issue, e.g. in Cambodia and Vietnam. High rates of development put pressure on the sustainable water supply and sanitation, and increase competition for water resources. Some ASEAN member states are unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals relating to drinking water and sanitation. The key water challenges for the ASEAN region have already been set out in the ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action of Water Resources and Management. They plan includes aspects such as collecting and maintaining high quality data, mitigating the effects of extreme events on water resources (especially to subsistence farmers and the poor), sustaining and improving water quality, improving governance systems, and acquiring financing for the development of new water infrastructure.
Massive investment in water technology has enabled Singapore to reduce considerably the dependency on water supply from the Peninsular Malaysia. The R&D Centre on Water Technology in Singapore as well as the city’s International Water Week (www.siww.com.sg) can serve as a hub for EU-ASEAN cooperation in this field, particularly in private public partnership projects. There are also a number of multilateral collaborations between ASEAN and EU at university and/or research organisation level (e.g. TWIN2GO, HIGHARCS, AsiaLink) which can be used as platform for further strengthening partnerships in the sector.