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Water for Asian Cities Programme
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The Water for Asian Cities (WAC) Programme is a collaborative initiative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the Government of the Netherlands, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and countries in the region.
Location: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Kazakhstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam
Partner: Governments of Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Kazakhstan, Laos PDR, Nepal, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam International Organizations:Asian Development Bank Vikram Sarabhai Foundation, CITI Foundation, UN-HABITAT.
Cost: US$ 3,800,000
Background and objectives:

The Water for Asian Cities (WAC) Programme is a collaborative initiative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the Government of the Netherlands, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and countries in the region. The programme focuses on three interlinked priorities:

  • Introducing demand responsive and demand management strategies to improve efficiency of water use and give more influence to those currently deprived of water and sanitation;
  • Scaling-up sanitation provision city-wide through innovative public-private-NGO partnerships, financing mechanisms and appropriate technical choices;
  • New pro-poor investments in urban water supply and sanitation with emphasis on serving the urban poor with piped water and formal sanitation facilities.


The programme, which was launched during the 3rd World Water Forum in Osaka, Japan, on 18 March 2003 supports the implementation of the water and sanitation-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and targets in Asian cities, specifically promoting pro-poor governance, water demand management, increased attention to environmental sanitation and income generation for the poor linked to water supply and sanitation. The programme seeks to achieve this by mobilizing political will, raising awareness through advocacy, information and education, training and capacity building, promoting new investments in the urban water and sanitation sector and systematic monitoring of progress towards the MDGs. The implementation strategies include public awareness campaigns for good urban water governance. The programme focuses on water sector reforms based on transparent policy, independent regulation and involvement of civil society and tariff policy reforms that promote sustainable investments by phasing out subsidies As per the framework of collaboration between ADB and UN-HABITAT, the programme is to be implemented in one country in each sub-region of Asia: South Asia, Southeast Asia, Mekong, East and Central Asia and the Pacific. The three phases of the programme comprise capacity-building, project preparation and investment, which may be implemented either sequentially or simultaneously, depending on the requirements and circumstances of each city. To implement the programme, both ADB and UN-HABITAT are making available US$10 million, equally shared amongst UN-HABITAT and ADB for phase I and II. For phase III, ADB is expected to plan a loan programme totaling US$500 million over a five-year period.

  • The first Asian Ministerial conference was held during the 3rd World Water Forum held in Osaka, Japan.
  • The High-level Ministerial and Mayoral Conference was attended by ministers from China, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Iran and Laos and the mayors of Ulanbator, Mongolia and Bhopal, as well as the Vice-Governor of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Conference adopted a Ministerial Declaration identifying priority action areas for the Programme.
  • The first ADB/UN-HABITAT Consultations for the review of progress and future planning were held in Manila in September 2003 and endorsed the good progress made by the programme. A regional initiative was launched on "Unheard voices of poor women on water and sanitation" and first results were presented at the 12th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in New York.

Sub-regional Initiatives

Southeast Asia

The South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) has requested to work with the water education component of the programme and endorsed the regional water education approach for Asia. During the 38th SEAMEO Council Conference held in Brunei on 1 March 2004, the Ministers of Education of 10 Southeast Asian Countries namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam, unanimously made a declaration of their willingness to promote and support regional cooperation on value-based water education.

Mekong Region

An initiative in the Mekong region comprising Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Viet Nam, Thailand and Yunnan Province of China focuses on secondary cities. The main objectives of this initiative were to stimulate investment in water and sanitation in these secondary towns facing serious shortages due to rapid urbanization.

Central Asia

UN-HABITAT is preparing to organize a Regional Workshop for Central Asian Countries on Value-based Water Education in Kazakhstan in 2005.

Initiatives in other sub-regions

With a view to enhance the capacity of city and utility managers and other stakeholders in the region in different areas of urban water management, the following two workshops on Capacity-building were organized: Urban Catchment Management and Pollution Control Workshop, Weihai, China (4-5 November 2003), which formulated a regional action plan and a strategy on urban water catchment for adoption in urban areas in the Asian cities; and the Water Education Workshop, Manila (29 November – 2 December 2003).

National Initiatives

Country-level activities related to capacity-building and development of investment programmes have commenced well in time.


The Board of Directors of ADB has approved a loan of US$200 million for investment in water and sanitation in six cities of Madhya Pradesh, India. The capacity-building activities will begin soon after the cooperation agreement has been approved with the Government of India. A stakeholders' consultation was organized in August 2004 for finalizing the activity plan.


In China, a diagnostic study for the city of Nanjing has been completed and programme formulation will be commencing soon after the proposed city of Nanjing is included in the Country Development Strategy.


The Government of the Philippines has decided to work with Water for Asian Cities Programme on a water and sanitation programme for government schools.


In Nepal, one of the least developed countries, UN-HABITAT as part of the Kathmandu Valley Small Towns Water and Sanitation Initiative, a community-based low cost sanitation and water supply project involving and investment of US$1 million for a small town of 46,000 inhabitants. The project will have a direct impact on livelihoods of the people as they mainly rely on growing vegetables for other larger cities in Kathmandu Valley. This project is being implemented in association with multilateral partners such as ADB and by working with local NGOs and CBOs.


Two parallel initiatives in partnership with community-based and non-governmental organizations are in progress. These involve provision of water and sanitation facilities in selected slum areas and construction of eco-toilets using the mechanisms of rainwater harvesting for poor neighbourhoods in Dhaka and secondary towns.

Sri Lanka

UN-HABITAT's initiative in Sri Lanka is in support of an ADB sewerage and sanitation project for Colombo city through public-awareness and advocacy for wastewater treatment and related measures. The project will benefit the city as a whole.

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