Inspired leaders who champion reforms can play a key role in helping Asian countries manage their water resources at a time of extreme pressure brought on by rapid urbanisation, climate change, pollution and industrialization, a senior Asia Development Bank official told the Asia Water Day seminar at the World Water Week in Stockholm this week.
The official, Mr. Xianbin Yao, Acting Director-General of the Bank's Regional and Sustainable Development Department, told a packed meeting: "What Asia needs is not just more financing. It needs better management." He said these problems were exacerbated by poor management, political interference and misunderstandings about how to improve water and sanitation in the world's most populous region.
"In contrast to the region's booming growth, water infrastructure and the capacity to manage it lags well behind," he said.
Mr Yao added however, that there were far-sighted and superb leaders who had nevertheless achieved extraordinary progress in water and sanitation deliver.
He named Mr. Ek Sonn Chan, whom he said had risked his life in taking unpopular but necessary decisions to reform the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority which was losing 70 percent of the city's supplies in leakages when he took over in 1993. He also cited Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, found of the Sulabh International social services organization which had brought low-cost sustainable toilets to over 1.2 million homes in India since 1970. Mr. Yao also praised a Thai restaurant owner, Mr. Khun Chamroon Suavdee who chairs the Bang Pakong River basin committee that helps prevent community conflict over water use.
In other positive developments, the Asia Development bank official said there had been a 40 percent drop between 1990 and 2006 in the number of people without safe drinking water in the region, while the numbers of those without sanitation had gone down by 14 percent. In South Asia, where not a single city has a 24-hour water supply, India, aided by a national reform programme, might even meet its Millennium Development Goal water targets early, Mr. Yao said.
The Asia Water Day event in Stockholm at the world's biggest yearly gathering of water and sanitation experts, was convened and sponsored by the Asian Development Bank. It also examined the impact of climate change on water resources, and the huge challenge of ensuring water delivery to urban areas where the population is expected to grown by 70 percent over the next 25 years.