Water Scarcity in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is running out of fresh water. Growing population and poor water management threaten the supply of our most basic yet most precious element. What can businesses do to secure the region’s water future?

Demand exceeds the finite supply of water

The global demand for water has been growing exponentially in the last decade. According to Euromonitor’s sustainability database, water withdrawals have been increasing by an average of 1% per year since the 1990s and will continue to grow by 30% in 2050. Though 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water, only 3% is fresh water and of this, a microscopic 0.5% is accessible to us.

Agriculture accounts for over 70% of water usage globally while Industry accounts for 20% where it is utilised for purposes such as processing and washing. Nearly all countries in Southeast Asia experience water shortage with little action actively being taken to address it.

Ranking the ASEAN markets according to the water pillars

Water Ranking of ASEAN markets

The Water pillar ranks the performance of 97 markets using seven indicators condensed into four categories: Equity, Availability, Security and Efficiency. The six key Southeast Asian markets here are ranked according to their performance compared to other markets outside of the region. The acronym (pp) means per person. Indicators are expressed either on a per capita basis, or per total land area.

Water scarcity issues pose a serious challenge for businesses in Southeast Asia, and responsible water management efforts remain niche. Euromonitor International’s Environmental Sustainability Index can be used to better understand regional and country specific risks and opportunities that exist in the sustainability space.

The nature of water shortages in Southeast Asia are wide-ranging. The region’s annual monsoon season, which brings rain to replenish water levels, is insufficient due to below-average rain levels. Droughts in Malaysia and Thailand resulted in depleting water levels. Heavily populated rivers in Indonesia limit access to clean water.

Singapore is the only nation that prioritises water management as a top national issue, due to its lack of fresh water source that necessitates water imports from Malaysia. More than half of the city-state’s water supply comes from rainwater collection, recycled water and desalination. Most governments do not consider the issue of water scarcity a top priority in their agendas.

The role that businesses can play in reducing water wastage

Businesses can be more efficient drivers for change, since they are more protean than governments. The water scarcity bears heavy economic impact on companies from many industries that rely on a constant supply of clean water.

Currently in Southeast Asia, it is typically multinational companies that have a corporate water stewardship programme as part of their sustainability agenda, usually implemented in a top-down approach at the global headquarters level.

Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines recently released its first ever sustainability report, highlighting localised measures taken to deal with water issues in the market such as intermittent access to clean water and being prone to typhoons and floods. There are also companies that provide industrial water treatment measures, such as De Nora Water Technologies based in Singapore, to serve clients in Asia Pacific. Businesses need to take into consideration the water stresses of the market they are operating in and create bespoke solutions for the local context.

The dwindling supply of fresh water in Southeast Asia has serious economic impact. The Environmental Sustainability Index is a useful tool for businesses to understand water scarcity issues and to create tailored water management strategies unique to each market.

For more information read our Environmental Sustainability Index