Asia’s Water Crisis
Image Credit: Harsh Mangal

Asia’s Water Crisis


As the contradictions of Asia’s water challenges have been laid bare this summer—with millions affected by flooding while others are hit by droughts—one thing has been made clearer: the coming water crisis could exacerbate already simmering domestic and regional tensions.

Heavy monsoon rains have produced the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history, with more than three weeks of flooding leaving at least 1,500 dead and more than 4 million homeless. Millions of Pakistanis already require humanitarian assistance, yet the likelihood that many more could be added to this list has grown with the announcement that 200,000 have been evacuated as flood waters continue to rise in Singh Province in the country’s south.

Meanwhile, flash floods and mudslides have submerged some villages in China’s Gansu Province, killing hundreds and leaving more than a thousand missing. Today, Chinese state media announced 250,000 had been evacuated in the north of the country after the Yalu River burst its banks.

But while attention has been focused on disasters in Pakistan in China, South-east Asia has been hit by its own torrential downpours. Last month, Singapore suffered three major floods—an unprecedented number for the prosperous city state—with even the shopping and financial districts hit in the first serious flooding disaster in the city since 1978.

Vietnam has also been affected, with many parts of Hanoi under water last month after a major storm struck the country. What added insult to injury in Vietnam’s case is that the flooding came after a nine-month dry spell that disrupted the country’s power supply (about a third of Vietnam’s power source comes from hydroelectric power plants whose operations have been adversely affected by falling water levels in the Mekong River).

And Vietnam hasn’t been the only country in the region to face the twin curse of droughts and flooding. The Philippines (recently ranked by the Belgium-based Center for Research and Epidemiology Disasters as the most disaster-prone area in the world) was last year hit by 14 meteorological and 9 hydrological disasters, the most devastating of which was last September’s typhoon, which unleashed the worst flooding in Metro Manila in 40 years.

This year, although floods have been a regular occurrence in Manila since the start of the wet season, the June-July rainfall was insufficient to increase water levels at the Angat Dam—the principal source of fresh water in the country’s capital. The result has been both tragic and somehow comic: Residential homes are flooded, but there’s no water in the faucets.

To top all this, Thailand is also this year experiencing a longer than usual dry season and was forced to postpone the rice planting season for a month, which will have knock-on effects around the region as Thailand, like Vietnam, is among the world’s top rice exporters.

March 6, 2013 at 03:37

Helmut I have to agree with you to an extent, I do agreed with you, that not until we have completely depleted all the oil supplies from earth we won’t stop polluting. But on the other hand populations, including the US, Europe and Japan have begun to decline and this is due to societies being better educated. There a lot other ways to obtain energy , I don’t think the lack of Oil is going to be the reason for the extinction of humans,  if anything is going to extinct us is going to be each other  on  another religious war.  And John Seriously!

August 25, 2010 at 14:53

The underlying problem is the excessive utilisation of nature, driven by the paradigm of continued economic growth. The idea is that growth is needed to create jobs for people. But even if this were correct, the policy does not consider that resources and space are finite. Normally more jobs eventuate automatically because more people need more food and stuff. Both population growth and expansion of the economy have been enabled by technology, which is totally dependent on fossil fuels – for which there is no alternative. On the other hand we, humanity, North and South, have overshot the earth’s carrying capacity by far. Growth produces increasing scarcities of food, minerals, space, clean water and climate change. So we may lament what we are doing wrong in individual areas. But at the end of the day we are virtually doomed if we don’t stop growing and start contracting. Population sizes and resource use must drop tremendously if we want to get back to a level of sustainability, which means that we can carry on as usual for a very long time. Present scale of human activity cannot accry on for a long long any more. After 250 generations of civilisation humanity may start crashing within this or the next generation. The disaster may be triggered by climate change. More probable seems the perspective of an increasingly reduced agricultural and industrial production because of the onset of the after-peak-oil era, within the next few years. That will produce the necessary reduction of humanity’s pressure on the environment. The costs will be high: famines and resource wars, rolling back of globalisation because transportation will become impossible for lack of fuels. The rich North will be hit like the poor South. Cities will empty, their people flowing onto the surrounding lands, trampling agricultural lands under their hungry feet. The end.
Helmut Lubbers

August 25, 2010 at 01:01

A Russian scientist has gone public and has suggested HAARP, a weather weapon owned and operated by the US may be the culprit for the weird weather of drought and flooding in Asia!

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