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ADB: Asian Governments Need to Improve Water Management to Avoid Crisis

The Asian Development Bank says that governments in the region need to improve the management of water resources to avoid a crisis in water security. Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

The Asian Development Bank says rapid population growth, urbanization and industrialization in the region - as well as climate change - will test the region's water management skills.

K.E. Seetharam, a senior water specialist at the ADB, says the major worry is not scarcity of water, but water management.

Wastewater from cities is often discharged into rivers and lakes without being treated. Water supply is unreliable and does not always reach every citizen. A lot of water is lost through leakages.

Seetharam says most of the problems are due to poor management. In many places, water supply and waste management is not run as a professional business but as a free service of the municipality.

"It's basically a vicious cycle of low quality service, therefore low maintenance of facilities, therefore very low tariffs being paid, and so very low motivational staff," said Seetharam. "Very low motivated staff because they don't have funds and they don't get good assets to provide for. The services are so bad so people don't want to pay for it - so it goes back."

He says governments should set up transparent tariff systems. He believes the supply of drinking water and treatment of wastewater need to be run as commercial ventures that are accountable to its customers.

He says some cities in Asia have already made vast improvements, such as the Philippines' capital Manila.

"Ten years ago the city did not have proper water supply, only for a couple of hours a day, leakages were about 70 percent," said Seetharam. "And today, nearly half the city already has 24-hour water supply and their leakages is only about 20 percent. They are doing a brilliant job."

He says Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh is another success story. In the past four years, the city's water authority managed to drastically reduce the amount of water leakages, from 90 percent of the water supply to less than ten percent.

Experts are not worried that the region will run out of water in the future.

"Today we are in such an advanced stage that we could treat wastewater into potable water," he said. "We could treat seawater into potable water. So we have all the technologies available to take back water to clean water."

Seetharam says the key to improving access to clean water is changing the perception of many people in Asia that water should be available for free.