Warwick China Public Affairs and Social Service Society

Environmental Panel


It is now widely accepted that long-term economic growth requires not just the accumulation of technology, physical capital, and labour, but also the preservation of the natural capital base. (Brock and Taylor 2005, OECD 2011). The rising Asian economies are incredibly successful judging by their rapid growth, but less so when environmental damage is accounted for. They are now confronted by the prospect of dwindling supply of environmental capital to support the growing demands of a more numerous, wealthier, and urbanized population. Clean and ample water is essential to maintain Asia’s emergence as the engine of the global economy. Yet recent economic expansion has largely been pursued at the expense of the environment, undermining delivery of these ecosystem services in the future. This unsustainable trajectory will, if allowed to continue, progressively hinder future development.
Water resources and social welfare

The welfare implications of degraded water resources in Asia are substantial. Approximately 70% of water is currently used in agriculture, water shortages undercut food security and the incomes of rural farmers. Illness associated with contaminated water reduces labour productivity and causes other health related costs. If supplies continue to deteriorate as demand rises, the costs of attaining usable water, such as drilling for groundwater, will rise accordingly. Without improved management of pollution, expansion of industrial water usage, particularly in the PRC, may diminish availability for human consumption and other uses.

Water disputes

There are many rivers in Asia running through multiple countries, namely, Çoruh River, the Euphrates, Indus River, Mekong River, the Rivers of Timor, Tigris River and etc. Water disputes have affected international relations for years, as seen in Central Asia where conflicts regarding control of water resources have persisted for centuries. Greater numbers of international disputes will arise and be more difficult to resolve as populations increase and economies grow, thereby placing a greater demand on scarce resources. For example, plans for several Chinese dams on the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra River upstream of the Indian border are perceived as a key threat to the stability of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Rising demand and dwindling supply

On the demand side, United Nations projections to 2030 estimate that the total population of ASEAN, the PRC, and India—currently comprising 46% of the world’s total population—will rise by another 462 million people (UN 2010). The attendant rises in agricultural, industrial, and urban usage will place even greater strain on dwindling supplies throughout these economies. The scale of this challenge is emphasised by the estimate that by 2030, under current management policies, water demand will exceed supply in the PRC and India by 25% and 50% respectively. (WRG 2009) Projecting to 2025, water shortages will affect India, China, North and South Korea, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Water pollution

Excessive groundwater extraction, pollution from human waste and industry, poor infrastructure, and dam-building are among the factors contributing to degradation of the region’s fresh water sources. Major improvements have occurred with regards to water access and sanitation in Asia over the last two decades, but large numbers still have inadequate facilities, particularly in rural areas of a large number of Asian countries.

Water management

The term “water management” encompasses a broad mix of water-related issues which also includes: efficiency of water usage; degradation of water resources through pollution or over-use; allocation between competing uses such as agriculture, drinking-water, natural ecosystems, and industry; allocation between competing uses such as agriculture, drinking-water, natural ecosystems, and industry; flood control; coordination between users at a local, national, and international level; treatment of waste water; and water storage, among many others.

International cooperation is fundamental to resolving water disputes, sharing technology know-how, developing joint water-management projects and trading water resources (in the case of Singapore and Malaysia). It is hoped that through the summit participating countries will reach a consensus as to how to strengthen water security within the region as well as devise collaborative strategies to improve water manage- ment efficacy in the region.


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