Freshwater is an essential environmental resource for sustaining human life, ecosystems and socio economic development in ASEAN Member States. At present, the total annual water withdrawal for the ASEAN region is almost 385 billion cubic metres, which is around 20 percent of water withdrawals in Asia. Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam use more than 80 per cent of their total annual water withdrawal for agriculture, while Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Singapore mainly use water for domestic and industry uses.
All ASEAN Member States have continued to improve water for safe drinking and sanitation in line with levels indicated in the Millennium Development Goals. According to the ASEAN Statistical Year Book 2014, approximately 89 per cent of the population in ASEAN had access to safe drinking water and 71 percent had access to safe sanitation in 2012. However, only 41 per cent of the population of Indonesia had access to safe drinking water and about half of the population of Cambodia still lack access to improved sanitation facilities.
Data from countries that have long-term water quality monitoring programmes, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and VietNam, shows that the number of rivers and lakes that are classified as having good water quality is decreasing annually, while the number of those classified as having fair and deteriorated water quality is increasing. The deteriorating water quality and increasing water pollution in the region is causing negative impacts on ecosystem services, public health and economic development.
The main challenges in water resources management in the region are linked to (i) increasing water demands and uncertainty in availability of freshwater resources, (ii) degradation of water quality, (iii) dealing with severe floods, droughts and sea level rise due to climate change and (iv) strengthening coordination and cooperation among ASEAN Member States and relevant agencies at national level in implementing Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).
It is important for ASEAN Member States to discuss, coordinate and overcome the above key challenges on water resources management in the region, in order to sustain freshwater resources and ensure sufficient water quantity of acceptable quality to meet the needs of the people in terms of health, food security, economy, and environment, as guided by ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action on Water Resources Management in 2005. Managing water resources efficiently and effectively, as well as promoting good water governance, will also support conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources, disaster resilience and a reduction of risks from water-related disasters due to climate change in the region, as stated in the key results areas of the ASCC Blueprint 2025. The achievement in implementing IWRM in ASEAN Member States at national, sub-regional (such as Mekong River Basin), and regional levels will also contribute to the successes of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly of Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), Goal 13 (Climate Action), Goal 15 (Life on Land) and Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
It is almost two decades since ASEAN started to provide support and facilitation to ASEAN Member States to address common issues on water resources and improve water resources management in the region through capacity building, knowledge exchange, data management and reporting, and sharing best practices of IWRM. ASPEN provides a forward-looking plan for the next 10 years to promote cooperation and joint actions across ASEAN Member States that would allow for addressing key challenges on water resources issues at national, sub-regional and regional levels. Efforts under this strategic priority will focus on five programmatic areas: (i) IWRM Country Strategy Guideline and Indicator Framework implementation, (ii) public awareness and cross-sectoral coordination, (iii) water conservation, (iv) water quality and sanitation, and (v) water-related disasters.
The ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action on Water Resources Management (2005) addresses key common challenges in water resources in the region. The Action Plan focuses on improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation, managing water resources efficiently and effectively, supporting integrated river basin management, translating awareness to political will and improved capacities, and supporting adequate and affordable water services.
The IWRM Performance Indicators Framework was first established in 2009 to monitor and assess the progress and achievements of IWRM in ASEAN Member States for six water management issues: water supply management, irrigation management, stormwater management, flood management, water pollution management and sanitation management. The second framework was revised in 2015 to include four types of indicators: outcome indicators, enabling environment indicators, institutional set-up indicators and management tools indicators. The ASEAN IWRM website is established and serves as a platform to share Annual Reports on the IWRM performance indicators (https://aseaniwrm.water.gov.my).
All ASEAN Member States are investing in increasing and improving water quality and quality monitoring systems to increase efficiency in water resources management and disaster risk management. ASEAN has established Water Data Management and Reporting System to provide a platform for ASEAN regional river monitoring system that would allow ASEAN to assess the status and broad trends of river conditions and water quality across the region (http://rhn.water.gov.my/awgwrm/)
Several forums, workshops, training and field visits have been organised in the last decade to identify issues and challenges, share examples of best practices and experience and possible solutions for urban and irrigation water demand management in ASEAN Member States.
A regional Workshop on Risks and Impacts from Extreme Events of Floods and Droughts in ASEAN was held in 2010 to assess the management of floods and droughts in ASEAN Member States and learn how well each country could cope with different flood and drought situations. It shared information on best practices and identified the required tools and actions to improve the current situation of flood and drought management in ASEAN Member States, both individually and collectively.
Over the next 10 years, the main objectives of the AWGWRM Action Plan are:
To promote Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) for sustainability of water resources, equitable accessibility, and sufficient water quantity of acceptable quality to meet the needs of the people, economy and environment.
To manage water resources efficiently and effectively in order to provide adequate and affordable water services.
To reduce the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.
To reduce risks and impacts of water-related disasters (flood, drought, storm, etc.) and strengthen the resilience of social and ecosystem.
ASEAN Working Group on Water Resources Management (AWGWRM) will be the main responsible body for the implementation of the programmes and activities of this Strategic Priority Area. Activities related to strengthening cross-sectoral coordination on water-related issues will be implemented in coordination with other ASEAN Working Groups such as AWGNCB, AWGCME and AWGEE. Activities related to addressing water-related disasters will be implemented in coordination with AWGCC and ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM), as necessary. There is also a potential need for coordination and joint implementation with AWGESC on improving water quality and sanitation, particularly in urban cities. Other relevant sectoral bodies and/or partners will be consulted for cross-sectoral and cross-pillar activities.
The AWGWRM will oversee the planning, technical and implementation issues under this Strategic Priority Area, while the ASEAN Environment Ministers and the ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment will provide policy and strategic guidance for its work. Lead countries of each programme/activity under the strategic priority are expected to develop proposal of detailed implementation workplan, implement the activity in coordination with AMS and ASEC, and provide regular progress updates to AWGWRM.
The activities under this Strategic Priority could be implemented through partnerships and regional collaborations with organisations working on water resources management. Potential partners or platforms include Mekong River Commission (MRC), Global Water Partnership - Southeast Asia (GWP-SEA), ASEAN Plus Three Countries (China, Japan and ROK), Network of Asian River Basin Organisations (NARBO), and International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID).
Several United Nations agencies can also be further engaged, such as United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Activities could also be implemented in partnership with Dialogue/Development partners or through ASEAN-Dialogue Partners cooperation framework or trust funds, such as Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF) and ASEAN-ROK Centre.
Other organisations that could support public awareness and knowledge exchange activities on water resources management, as well as cross-sectoral coordination, include International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES).