Asia must not let economic crisis set back water infrastructure

Government's in the Asia-Pacific region must continue to invest in water infrastructure despite the financial crisis - or face fundamental long-term threats to their economies and social development.

This was the warning of the president of the Asian Development Bank Haruhiko Kuroda when he spoke at the Singapore International Water Week summit on Monday.

He expressed fears that cash-strapped governments would look to make savings by scrapping or postponing vital water and wastewater management projects.

"This is actually the time to be sustaining and increasing financing to fuel infrastructure investment to be the engine of growth once again," Mr Kuroda said.

"Stagnant investments in this sector may compromise our energy and food security, as well as our economies and environment, creating a significant new threat to both poverty reduction and economic growth."

He claimed that economic recession can present opportunities, noting that a shortage of public funding for water sector infrastructure could be filled by private sector investments.

In 2004, 635 million people in the Asia-Pacific region did not have access to safe drinking water, and 1.86 billion people currently do not have access to adequate sanitation.

The region's recent strong economic growth, population pressures, and increased urbanisation have combined to sharply increase water use, while pollution and climate change pose further threats to the precious resource.

ADB's Water Financing Program 2006-2010 seeks to double investments in rural and urban water services and basin water management to well over $2 billion annually.

Projects approved to date under the program will provide more than 95.5 million people access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.

Sam Bond



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