(75) Mr. Arjun Thapan on the Water Crisis and the Efficiency Paradigm
Category: DEVELOPMENT-AT-WORK SERIES
October 30, 2014 –Mr. Arjun Thapan, chairman of Waterlinks and one of the world’s leading thinkers on water issues, delivered a talk entitled “Water and Asia’s Future: Grim Forebodings and Time for Reform” last October 27.
Calling the situation “the stuff of nightmares”, Mr. Thapan centered his Development-at-Work lecture on the water crisis. He began by first showing the context with which he tried to answer the question “How much [water] do we currently have?” He then moved forward to the why of the situation and focused on the many sources of demand for water. Finally, he concluded the talk by zeroing in on efficiency as the only premise to creating new water and, consequently, solving this crisis. A short Q&A ended the lecture.
“How much do we currently have?”
At the present, almost all of Asia is already experiencing steadily-progressing water scarcity. Last 2011, the International Water Management Institute said that by 2025, all of Asia will experience the incapacity to satisfy water demand because of the lack of systems and infrastructures (economic water scarcity). Pakistan, most of India, and more than half of China would also have not enough physical water resources (physical water scarcity). With the constant increase of population and its effects, along with many external factors, per capita availability of fresh water continuously declines, leading us to an environment where potable water isn’t readily available.
In terms of statistics, Mr. Thapan provided data which showed that the IRWR (Internal Renewable Water Resources or the total amount of both surface water and groundwater a country has) levels in Asia are low, and that the accessible percentage of that is even lower. Mr. Thapan cited the Philippines’ case: of our 20 major river basins, 17 are forecast to experience shortage by 2025 and only three will be spared. Moreover, Central Luzon has a projected negative water balance by 2025. [JICA, 2010]
We don’t have enough, and the number is projected to keep going lower.
The increasing demand for water
After establishing the context, Mr. Thapan proceeded to discuss the demands: “how much water is required by whom and by when.” He started off by reinstating the size and population of the demand, mentioning that Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, and South Africa would dominate the world in terms of population by 2050 and their demand would reach half of the world’s total water.
This growth in population brings in different factors. One of these is urbanization. Asian urbanization has been increasing since 1950 with high numbers coming from China and India. This mass movement of people creates very concentrated urban centers. Centers outside the developed country classification and slums suffer from water and sanitation issues. With the high cost of land and the chaotic urban layout, creating and maintaining systems become highly difficult.
Another factor is the size and nature of Asia’s cities. In 2010, 12 out of 21 megacities cited are found in Asia, and by 2025, the number is projected to rise to 21 out of 27. According to Mr. Thapan, “Megacities are a way of life in Asia. They are the engines of economic growth.” Manila, he cited, contributes to more than 30% of the GDP, but as with other megacities, this contribution is constrained by lack of water supply and waste water treatment, resulting to poor public health and lost productivity.
Basin economies, river basin sites for economic activities shared by multiple countries, are factors Mr. Thapan included. As with megacities, basin economies are main contributors to the world’s GDP. Data on the consumption of freshwater from the Ganges, Indus, Hai, and Krishna basins show that the amount of consumption is starting to threaten the ecosystem and the survival of the rivers themselves.
Food and energy also affect the demand. Urbanization led to rising income which has then led to the rise of demand for water-intensive food such as meat and dairy products. For energy, the movement and treatment of water and wastewater in urban areas are energy-intensive processes. Energy production, in turn, is a water-intensive activity.
The last point Mr. Thapan touched on was climate change and how Asia’s cities are susceptible to both flooding and droughts. Not only are they affected by flooding and droughts, both of which affect water and sanitation.
“The one and only premise on which Asia is going to solve this crisis is to create new water.”
According to Mr. Thapan, the creation of new water can only be done by efficiency in terms of capturing and storing, withdrawing and treating, distributing, and recovering and recycling. The point of being efficient is to eventually lead to a mass shrinking of water footprint. Large-scale water users such as the industrial and the energy sectors must be efficient in their water consumption.
Mr. Thapan gave two important things to note when it comes to bringing out the new efficiency paradigm. First, we must accept that water is going to get expensive as the price of water is going to reflect its scarcity. Second, we must (and will) use technology to reduce water footprints in every sphere of use. He said that governments could make change happen. In fact, there are governments which have already created systems leading to efficient water use.
“But the Efficiency paradigm can work only if consumers don’t wait for governments to get into the act,” he noted, “There is too much to lose – as evidenced by what we have lost over decades of inaction in reform. The water-consuming industry has to reform itself if it is to survive and grow.”
The changes in human needs have brought about water scarcity, which places us in a situation where we have to face interrelated adaptive issues and risks. According to Mr. Thapan, something is going to drive us to be efficient and that we have a choice to be aware about what’s currently happening.
“Dealing with them intelligently will mean a revival in Asia’s fortunes,” Mr. Thapan said. “Failure is likely to condemn Asia to an also-ran in the 21st century.”
About our Speakers:
Mr. Arjun Thapan, chairman of Waterlinks, is a leading thinker on global water issues. He wrote ADB’s Water Policy that has guided its work in water since 2001, and designed and delivered ADB’s first Water: Crisis and Choices conference. He also designed Water Operational Plan 2011-2020 to sit within a Green Growth paradigm in ADB. As Chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Water Security in 2009-2011, he leveraged the council’s effort to propagate the Water-Energy-Food Nexus as a key determinant of development planning. He speaks extensively on Asia’s water crisis and solutions at various global fora.
About the Development-at-Work Seminar Series
The AIM Zuellig Graduate School of Development Management hosts numerous talks and public lectures on different aspects of development management. These seminars and lectures are free and open to the public, unless stated otherwise. For information on future seminars, visit the News and Events section of this website or like us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/aimszgsdm).