UN-HABITAT and the Asian Development Bank this week celebrated five years of working together to improve water and sanitation in the world's most populous region.
As more than 5,000 delegates from 60 countries met for the inaugural Singapore International Water Week conference and the World Cities Summit, the two institutions used to the occasion to pledge tighter cooperation in their joint quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for poverty reduction.
"The Asia Pacific is a region of great diversity in all its aspects - populations, political institutions and socio-economic conditions, systems of administration, culture, ecosystems and availability of water," said a specially commissioned independent Report Card on the cooperation. Rapid population growth in the Asia-Pacific region over the past decade has forced more people to live in most vulnerable areas and has led to ever-increasing demands for water supply and sanitation services, which require greater investment in water projects. Paradoxically, the countries in the region have been experiencing unprecedented economic growth with India and China, the two most populous countries of the world, being amongst the fastest growing economies.
"I am sure that the exchange of ideas especially on water solutions and applications will give everyone food for thought when we tackle the challenges we face in our own cities," said Mr. Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.
The report warned that increasing urbanization and economic growth in the region could lead to a dramatic reduction in poverty and achievement of MDG 7 Targets 10 and 11 – Reduction to half by 2015 the number of people who do not have access to clean water and basic sanitation and improvement in the lives of 100 million slum dwellers. It said access to safe drinking water supplies in the Asia-Pacific region had improved substantially in recent years (in 2002 around 3.16 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region had access to safe drinking water supplies). However, formidable challenges remain. Approximately 669 million people still live without access to safe drinking water in the region. "The story for sanitation is even less satisfactory. Of the 2.6 billion people in the world without access to improved sanitation facilities, nearly 2 billion are in the Asia-Pacific region. Coverage for improved sanitation in the region lags behind the rate needed to attain the MDG target," it said.