State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Water Security in Asia

Decreased access to a safe, stable water supply in Asia “will have a profound impact on security throughout the region,” warns an Asia Society Leadership Group report released on April 17. In response to the cascading set of consequences reduced access to fresh water will trigger—including impaired food production, the loss of livelihood security, large-scale migration within and across borders, and increased economic and geopolitical tensions and instabilities—the report recommends a comprehensive strategy to avert a regional crisis.

Asia’s Next Challenge: Securing the Region’s Water Future, was chaired by Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large and Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, Tommy Koh, and includes the expertise of former senior officials from governments across Asia, business and NGO leaders, and scientists. Notable members include economist and Director of the Earth Institute Jeffrey Sachs (United States), Nobel Laureate and Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Rajendra K. Pachauri (India), former Foreign Ministers Gareth Evans (Australia), Han Sung-joo (South Korea), Yoriko Kawaguchi (Japan) and Surin Pitsuwan (Thailand), and CEOs Andrew Benedek (ZENON Environmental, Canada), Ajit Gulabchand (Hindustan Construction, India), and N.G. Wickremeratne (Hayleys Limited, Sri Lanka). In addition, the report contains essays written by Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Jennifer Turner of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Upmanu Lall, Director of the Earth Institute’s Water Center, among others. The report was drafted in partnership the Earth Institute’s Water Center at Columbia University, the Asia-Pacific Water Forum, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Asia's Next Challenge: Securing the Region's Water Future

The report highlights the fact that although Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population, the region has less freshwater per capita than any continent other than Antarctica. Currently, one out of five people (700 million) in Asia does not have access to a clean water supply, and half of the region’s population (1.8 billion people) lacks access to basic sanitation. Population growth, rising urbanization rates, rapid economic growth and climate change are expected to worsen the situation.

The Leadership Group maintains that while solutions are well within reach, they will require high-level political will and significant investments. Governments need to develop policies that can address multiple problems simultaneously, with the aim of reducing security risks and vulnerabilities and providing economic benefits such as investments in infrastructure for water conservation and management. Asian countries should forge a regional approach in which governments and other key stakeholders, including nongovernmental organizations, civil society groups, and businesses, work together to clarify responsibilities and coordination mechanisms to address water security concerns.

An online multimedia resource dedicated to this initiative can be found at Once there, you will be able to download a PDF copy of the report and access a collection of briefings outlining the water security challenges in a selected group of Asian countries.

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Dan Stellar
15 years ago

This report is a welcome addition to the literature on water in Asia, and raises many important points. In Asia, more than anywhere else, massive populations are placing unprecedented stress on water resources. Although the situation is already dire in many parts of the continent, without immediate action things are bound to get worse. Many of the really devastating effects of long-term unsustainable water use have not yet been fully realized. As Jeff Sachs says in the above video, “unless we see what is coming around the curve, we will come up against walls very fast and very hard.” Although this report is a great step in raising awareness of the issues and in presenting the types of recommendations that are necessary to adopt, the real challenge for civil society groups is getting action on these issues from world leaders.