Asia has three of the top five most populated countries in the world with China, India, and Indonesia accounting for over 3.75 billion people. All three countries face significant challenges in the present and future to provide enough freshwater needed for agriculture, energy, industrial, and domestic use.
With over 1.3 billion people, China faces multiple challenging issues in providing freshwater availability to its growing population. Pollution is widespread across many of the country’s freshwater resources. A government report estimates that 70% of China’s rivers and lakes are polluted while more than half of China’s rivers have vanished in the past two decades. An estimated 21% of available surface water in China is too polluted to use for agriculture. Another issue is that a quarter of China’s population lives in The North Plain where water resources are stressed. To provide freshwater to the north, China is developing one of the largest construction projects in history to transfer as much as 44.8 billion cubic meters of water per year. Simply feeding the 1.3 billion population is another challenge that requires a tremendous amount of water and water availability will be a top concern to ensure the future food security of the nation.
India’s population of 1.2 billion also faces several critical issues in meeting its people’s basic water needs. Like China, most of its freshwater sources are contaminated by pollution. Tragically, water-related diseases result in the deaths of over a thousand people each day in India. Over 100 million people are living near severely polluted water and about 99 million lack access to an improved water source. Additionally, the available water is being used up at a rapid rate for farming and industrial use. More than 40% of the surface water is being used each year while groundwater levels across 4,000 wells fell about 54% over seven years. A report by McKinsey & Company predicts that water demand in India will reach 1.5 trillion cubic meters in 2030 while India’s current water supply is only 740 billion cubic meters.
Indonesia is the fifth largest country in the world with over 250 million people and an estimated 39 million are without access to improved drinking water sources. This is about the same number of people living in the state of California (38.8 million). While the economy is growing, the 1998 financial crisis led to a severe lack of water infrastructure investments and infrastructure improvements continue to be severely underfunded. Indonesia has about 21% of the freshwater available in the Asia-Pacific Region but it can not efficiently capture and distribute the nations water resources efficiently because of the poor infrastructure.