Managing water is critical for modern economies
Productive economies in agriculture, industry and energy must be secured to eradicate poverty and increase prosperity. Sustained growth requires using more water or using water more productively.
------- Southeast Asia. This region is using its water resources quite productively, matching the economic water security of the developed economies in the region. However, there is potential to further improve water productivity in agriculture, which would increase food security for its growing population and potentially release water resources for other uses. Improving agricultural soil and water productivity on existing agricultural land is particularly important because land is limited, and expansion to more marginal land should be avoided to minimize environmental degradation. Extensive flooding in Thailand in 2011 and the economic impacts on industry have put water security considerations high on the national agenda. Thailand is an example of a country where economic development is enabling an increased emphasis on the maintenance of water quality and environmental conservation. The use of hydropower resources is expanding rapidly to support the increasing energy demands in the subregion. Balancing this expansion with the needs of other subsectors and the environment will be an important determinant of overall water security.
------ Pacific islands. Assessments for the Pacific island countries have been constrained by a widespread lack of basic data. For the productive economies indicators, 10 of 13 countries lacked the data necessary to evaluate at least two subindexes and therefore the region would not be included in Figure 7 without the inclusion of expert opinion to supplement available data.35 Few countries in the Pacific have sufficient reliable data to enable computation of the indicator, and it was therefore not possible to make a representative assessment of water security for the Pacific, which will need to improve monitoring and collection of basic data to enable evaluation and tracking of advances in water security as they are achieved. Expert judgment by regional specialists was used to derive the assessment included in Table 6.
------ East Asia. Agricultural, energy, and industrial water security are relatively high in East Asia. Although irrigated agriculture is the major user, where heavy manufacturing is concentrated, industrial water use already accounts for 22% of demand and municipal supplies take a further 14%. Recognizing the crucial importance of water to sustained advances in poverty reduction and economic growth, the Government of the PRC has initiated a program of water sector investments, referred to as the Three Red Lines. These investments will cap the total national water abstraction at 700 cubic kilometers in 2030, drive improved water productivity and water use efficiency across the economy, and improve water quality in rivers and lakes.
Water use in thermal energy generation is substantial, and with expanding energy demands and diversification of energy sources, water demands will continue to increase. Therefore, improving water use efficiency in the energy sector is essential. However, efforts to improve water use efficiency must reduce consumption of water rather than only reduce withdrawal from the water source. For example, although closed-loop cooling systems reduce water diversions for cooling, the increased consumption in these systems may result in additional stress on the resource. Although many of the best hydropower sites in East Asia are already developed, hydropower makes a relatively small contribution to the subregion’s energy generation. The 2012 water resources management regulation has also established clear targets that industry will have to attain by 2030 an added value of CNY10,000 (approximately $1,680) for each 40 cubic meters of water allocated.
Further increases in agricultural water productivity will be required to help ensure food security for the growing population and to enable poverty reduction. By investing heavily in the agriculture sector, the PRC has enabled hundreds of millions of farmers to lift themselves out of poverty. However, more than 100 million people in rural areas of the PRC continue to live in poverty and therefore the PRC continues to pursue a modernization program to ensure that the benefits of increased productivity are realized by all. Notwithstanding these efforts, the indications are that, with the exception of Mongolia, East Asia’s ecosystems are already heavily strained and substantial efforts will be required to rebalance water use for socioeconomic activities and the needs of ecosystems to ensure sustainable resource use. The 2012 water management regulations include specific water quality targets, reflecting the recognition that water security depends on sustainable access to water in appropriate quantities and of usable quality.
----- Central and West Asia. Large-scale irrigation systems for production of cotton and wheat were established in the 1930s. Since the 1960s, extractions for the agriculture sector have caused substantial damage to the ecosystem of the Aral Sea. However, as major wheat and cotton producers, Central Asia and the Caucasus are critical to global agriculture and food security. Currently, agricultural water productivity is lower than in the rest of Asia, and the irrigation infrastructure is deteriorating due to a lack of adequate maintenance, resulting from decreasing technical expertise and financial resources. The creation of new independent states has meant that many of the subregion’s river basins and some major irrigation canals now span international boundaries, increasing the complexity of management and raising new challenges for water resource allocation and maintenance of infrastructure. There remains room to increase water security through improved productivity by agricultural, industrial, and energy users. However, ecosystem services have been grossly undervalued in Central Asia, and this failure may become a binding constraint on the productive use of land and water resources in the future.
Agricultural productivity in Central Asia is determined by limited rainfall, outdated modes of irrigation, saline groundwater, enforced quotas for wheat and cotton, and the slow pace of reform in land tenure and agriculture. The major irrigation systems in the Central Asian republics are remnants of shared systems developed by the former Soviet Union. The countries now share transboundary systems that are complicated to manage and rehabilitate.