Paul Reiter: (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Water scarcity is acute in Asia and is likely to worsen at an accelerating speed as the region develops.
Yet, the level of public awareness and political commitment is too low in the region to bring about radical changes that are needed to quench its growing thirst, according to an international water expert.
“At a casual level, most people would say, ‘Yeah, water is a big problem.’ But if you talk about the awareness beyond that level, ‘Okay, what to do about it?’ I think there is almost no discussion going on,” Paul Reiter, executive director of the International Water Association, told The Korea Herald.
“Asia’s problems are not original, but the scope and magnitude of them, because of the rate that the region is developing, make it the most important region for us,” he said.
Based in London, the IWA is a global network of water professionals spanning the continuum between research and practice and covering all facets of the water cycle.
The American expert said the combination of a rapid urbanization, industrialization and population growth will pose threats to Asian countries in their management of water, ranging from stable supply, sanitation, drainage to wastewater treatment.
He cited an Asian Development Bank projection that by 2030, Asia will face a 40 per cent deficiency in water for food.
The looming water crisis, however, doesn’t seem to receive the attention it deserves, compared to energy issues, Reiter said, which is in part because water is managed by governments, cities or public firms who are less likely to speak out.
“The water crisis is like a slow-moving train that is going to crash. It doesn’t move so fast that it causes people to get into action,” he said.
He hoped that a big gathering of global water experts in Busan later this year could serve as an opportunity to drive the sense of urgency in Asia.
Around 7,000 policymakers, industry specialists and academics from some 130 countries will gather in Korea’s southern port city in September for the biennial IWA Water Congress and Exhibition, he said.
“Remember when people realized that the ozone layer was going to be completely destroyed. They had to make a big fuss about it to get the awareness up. I think we need to do something like that now,” he said.