3 Billion At Risk from Water Scarcity in Asia-Pacific

March 26, 2015

While much gets written about the Asia-Pacific's vast resources of human and financial capital, very little attention gets paid to worsening supplies of essential natural resources. Water is one resource that is scarce in the Asia-Pacific region and, in the coming years, has great potential to impact political relations, government policy and economic prospects.

 

Global View on Freshwater Availability (Cubic Metres per Person, per Year)

 Source: World Resources Sim Center, 2010

 

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation shows that China and India, the two main powers in the Asia-Pacific region and home to approximately 3 billion people, are chronically short of water.

 

With water being vital to both industrial growth prospects and to long-term food security, it is an increasingly sensitive issue. 

 

We have written previously about the centrality of water concerns to China's management of Tibet but, increasingly, control over water supplies is becoming a thorny political issue between China and other states in the region.

 

A notable example is that of Laos, which has recently raised objections about attempts by Chinese companies to dam tributaries to the Mekong River, a major source of livelihood and power for people in the country.

 

Aside from political spillovers, water prevents a significant challenge for economic policy. Water supply and pricing are intractable problems for governments in the region who have historically been reluctant to raise prices - a move which they fear would hit the poor, rural hardest - as a means to raise excess consumption. 

 

Unlike issues such as periodic bouts of inflation, the challenge of water shortage is a significant, long-term problem and, given the shortages depicted by the FAO, it has to be tackled swiftly if the Asia-Pacific region is to realise its grand development potential.

 

 

 

 

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