Changing Perspectives: Report Launch At Asia Society

By Dharisha Mirando, Dawn McGregor 18 October, 2018

CWR's Mirando & McGregor recap expert voices from our Asia Society forum - we urgently need to think about water differently

For our report launch we met investors, philanthropists, C-suite executives, journalists & NGOs to rethink our water conversation – it is not just about access to clean water
First, mountains are not as remote as we think & they matter to cities; second, 8 of Asia's 10 major rivers are transboundary so countries need to work together
Lastly we need to face up to the shocking & the “not so obvious” realities e.g. 6 major cities in India will suffer from acute water scarcity & pollution in the next 10 years

On September 18th 2018, we launched our new report, “No Water, No Growth – Does Asia have enough water to develop?”; a comprehensive look at not just China’s but Asia’s water challenges, particularly for 10 major Asian rivers.  We held many events during the week and had the pleasure of hosting four water experts/ laureates: Professor Asit Biswas, Professor Shaofeng Jia, Dr. David Molden, and Dr. Cecilia Tortajada. We and the experts met investors, philanthropists, C-suite executives, journalists and NGOs at a variety of public and private forums where we discussed the report and the need to shift the conversation from access to clean water to water-nomics.

At our inaugural Ideas Lab event, we discussed the need to plug data gaps; shift the water conversation from solely focusing on clean water to also include water-nomics; focus on hotspots at the river basin level; and how business needs to go business unusual to ensure a future with water. We will publish a paper summarising the discussions, so stay tuned!

Below are some takeaways from the honest discussions at the public launch on the 20th of September at Asia Society.

Mountains matter to cities: they are not as remote as we think

We have a romanticised view of mountains & glaciers – big &white glaciers or green trees. However, as images in the report and those presented at the Asia Society by explorer Jeff Fuchs show that is not the case for many glaciers in the Hindu-Kush Himalayas. The picture below (one of the images shown) shocked many people in the audience because the glacier pictured isn’t this romanticised view, it’s grey, brown and looks like rubble.

We also miss a lot of the detail when we think about mountains:

  • Temperatures are rising faster here than at sea level causing glaciers to melt faster,  a 1-5 – 2 degree C increase translates to a 4 degree C increase in the Hindu-Kush Himialyas;
  • The people who live in these regions are forgotten but we need to support them as they help preserve the land, which can help during floods further downstream; and
  • Having lived here for centuries, these people know a lot about the region and we can learn from them about the changes happening.

We still need more data on what is happening in mountainous regions

Moreover, with so much data around glaciers & mountains missing, we urgently need more. Therefore, we need to invest because it will not only benefit the few people that live there but also businesses and investors who will have access to more real-time information about potential issues that could hurt their bottom line.

Misconceptions are common

Rivers are transboundary; 8 of Asia’s 10 major rivers are transboundary. Clearly this necessitates inter-government communication and agreement. Some agreements already exist but better communication is necessary to ensure that resources are shared fairly.

Between May & November each year, China & India share data for the Brahmaputra River

Many usually say here that much of the blame lays with China. For example, China is not a member of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), yet as Debra pointed out, the MRC’s own river monitoring arm highlights that Chinese dams are helpful during floods and droughts as they are used to reduce river flow during wet season and increase the flow in dry season.  Professor Jia also mentioned that between May and November each year, China and India share data for the Brahmaputra River as this is the main flooding season. Where they can’t share the data, they send a signal to let those downstream know about any potential floods.

Overall, as Professor Biswas pointed out, we need to stop fixating on water wars, which commentators love to focus on. Actions are being taken to avoid them, as highlighted above, and we should work together and pay more attention to the real threat to Asia, which is emphasised in the report:

  • Not enough water to develop;
  • Climate change’s impact on rivers; and
  • Clustered assets along vulnerable rivers.

China is already implementing a number of policies to ensure better water and environmental managements. In comparison to India, it is ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, as Professor Biswas mentioned, India has a very different water management and political system and therefore not all lessons can be transferred.

We need to face up to reality: the shocking and the “not so obvious”

Hong Kong does not have a good reputation for its water management – water prices have not increased since 1996 and we use too much – ~220 litres of water / person / day, but technically we should need only ~75 litres. Even though Professor Biswas was not complimentary about Hong Kong’s water management, he said there were many other candidates that would be at the top of his list for the next Cape Town.

He predicts that 6 major cities in India will suffer from acute water scarcity and pollution in the next 10 years. When pushed for names, he mentioned Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Calcutta and Mumbai. For example Delhi, which currently struggles to provide water and waste water treatment for its population of 25 million, will have 43.5 million people by 2035!

“6 major cities in India will suffer from acute water scarcity & pollution in the next 10 years”

On a more positive note, we have some great examples of water management in Asia, even though the Western world is typically held up as the best at water management. Singapore has done a good job so far. Another example is Phnom Penh, where the water supply authority is run without subsidies but charges by water use, as it is assumed that the rich use more water than the poor. Therefore, the rich subsidise the poorer clientele but everyone has access to clean water.

We need to re-think our water conversation – it is not just about access to clean water

Overall, the honest discussion by the members of the panel and their answers to the audiences answers highlighted that we need to re-think our water conversation – it is not just about access to clean water. Many countries in Asia do not have enough and as economies run on water, they must re-assess their development plans to ensure they can grow economically and simultaneously provide better standards of living for their citizens.

Further Reading

  • Tackling Asia’s Water Challenges – Following China Water Risk’s new report highlighting Asia’s water challenges and the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, Cecilia Tortajada from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy calls for action from the investment community
  • Hindu Kush Himalayas – Why The Third Pole Matters – What is the Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) region and why does this “Third Pole” matter for Asia’s economy? How we can protect the region better? We sat down with Dr David Molden, the Director General of ICIMOD, to find out more
  • Water Rights In China: 4 Years On – 4 years on, what is the status of the water rights trading system in China? Find out in our in-depth interview with Prof. Jia Shaofeng, the Deputy Director of the Center for Water Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Hong Kong Green Finance Association Launch: Key Takeaways – What is the Hong Kong Green Finance Association and how can it aid China’s Belt & Road Initiative? China Water Risk’s Dharisha Mirando shares 3 key takeaways from the launch
  • New Report: Does Asia Have Enough Water To Develop? – Since our economy runs on water, no water means no growth but there is little conversation on this topic in Asia. To catalyse such conversations, this report provides an overview of the water-nomic challenges facing Asia
  • India’s Thermal Power Plants Threatened By Water Shortages – Water shortages are negatively impacting India’s ability to produce power. World Resources Institute’s Tianyi Luo updates us on water stress exposure, risks & opportunities for India’s power sector
  • Water-nomics: Trade-offs Along The Yangtze – With significant economic, water use and pollution disparities along the Yangtze River, China Water Risk & the Foreign Economic Cooperation Office of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, publish a joint brief to explore strategies to find the right development mix. Check out some of the key findings in this review
Dharisha Mirando
Author: Dharisha Mirando
Dharisha Mirando hails from the finance industry and joined CWR as she believes that climate and water factors are downplayed by the sector despite being significant investment risks. To tackle this, her ambition is to help build consensus, bridge the gap between finance and science, and engage with investors to incorporate these risks into their due diligence and portfolio management. This could in turn lead to innovative Green Finance instruments becoming more prevalent. She has already made strong headway as the lead author of a recently published report with Manulife Asset Management and the Asia Investor Group on Climate change, which highlights the imminent threats to Asian asset owners' portfolios from climate and water risks. Dharisha has also undertaken a number of speaking engagements on these pressing issues at investor and insurance conferences. Prior to joining CWR, Dharisha worked for a long-only public equities fund. She has also worked in the impact investment space in London and Singapore where she provided technical assistance to social enterprises, helped them raise equity investments, and managed a debt portfolio.
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Dawn McGregor
Author: Dawn McGregor
Dawn leads CWR’s work to help corporates navigate increasingly disruptive & material risks from water & climate threats, as well as transitional risks in the supply chain arising from new regulations in China. Here, Dawn engages extensively with the global fashion industry delivering on-ground workshops in China to keynotes and strategic input at European HQs. She has written at length on the end of dirty and thirsty fast fashion and her report to overcome gaps between brands and manufacturers for a clean and circular future inspired the industry to create a new wastewater tool. Dawn also works closely with the property and tourism sectors where she not only conducts strategic assessments of their exposure but builds collective action toward resilience via closed door working groups and invite-only events. Having helped build CWR, Dawn is a frequent keynote, panellist & moderator at events, including being twice selected as the lead-rapporteur at World Water Week. Her articles are cited in various industry publications including the UN’s ‘World Without Water’. Dawn previously worked in a global investment bank assessing geo-political risk, crisis management and business resiliency. She was born and bred in Hong Kong and has lived in France, England, Singapore and Beijing.
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