Water Sector Opportunities in Asia

Water Sector Opportunities in Asia

Roddy Gow – Inverness May 11th 2016

Roddy Gow, Chairman and Founder of the Asia Scotland Institute was invited to do a talk on the ‘Water Sector in Asia’ at a conference in Inverness. Roddy and his wife April, who live in Scotland and  the United States, have had a growing interest in the environment and the threats posed by the damage that we are doing to our oceans and other water sources around the world. In the time that was available to Roddy he covered five main themes, which can be found below, to provide a greater understanding of both the challenges and related business opportunities. 



I would like to pose three questions.

WHY should we be worried about water problems in Asia?

WHAT are the challenges or opportunities?

WHAT can we do about them?


Millions in Asia are without clean water

  • 4 million people die each year from water-related diseases.

    That’s almost the entire city of Los Angeles, CA.

  • Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under five in the world. Around 1.5 million deaths a year, nearly one in five, are caused by diarrhea, which kills more children than malaria, AIDS, and measles combined.
  • Globally, women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water. This is equivalent to the time taken building 28 Empire State Buildings each day.



The Challenge is multifaceted but how often have you heard it said that the next World War could be fought over water? In Asia this means access to drinking water, disputes over the diversion of water by countries and communities, the pollution of what we have and the huge damage being done to our oceans with consequent impacts on climate and the environment.

“Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink” Coleridge   The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner 1797

Asia needs around $8 billion a year to improve water security and meet goals of providing drinking water and sanitation, and most of that will need to come from the private sector, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.

The ADB planned to maintain its current annual investment on water projects of $2-2.4 billion under a proposed 10-year plan, said Arjun Thapan, ADB’s senior advisor on water and convenor of a four-day water crisis conference in Manila.

The bank has been spending similar amounts for water projects since 2005, and wants to focus attention on managing demand and improving water consumption efficiency.

“Asia needs to aggressively adopt measures that dramatically improve water use efficiencies and safeguard the region’s food and energy security,” Thapan said the region could face a 40 percent gap between water demand and supply in 2030. It loses as much as 29 billion cubic meters of treated water a year, valued at $9 billion, which could impact economic growth in the next 20 years.

He said there was a need to develop a corporate outlook in water services to attract more private investment and expertise, saying Manila’s experience in combating leakages could be a model in Asia to improving sustainable water supply.



Plastic never goes away. And it is increasingly finding its way into our oceans and onto our beaches. In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments — like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles — are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.

Today billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences or Gyres making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces.

Plastics pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. Endangered wildlife like Hawaiian monk seals and Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are among nearly 300 species that eat and get caught in plastic litter



The amount of drinking water needed in Asia is a case of a collision course between a rapidly growing population, immense pressure being placed on available sources of water with damage to aquifers and rivers and lakes, continuing poisoning of this finite resource as mentioned both on land and at sea.



Providing Solutions is not a top down technology transfer from the developed to the developing world. It calls for local partnerships where expertise from Scotland, for example, can be shared with those on the ground through sustainable initiatives involving ongoing a long-term approach.

Investors need to be aware of the risks and pitfalls and approach this aspect with their eyes wide open, especially in Asia.



I would like to conclude these observations by considering a better term to use than the Appliance of Science and the commercial imperatives in dealing in the water sector. I have for long felt that the right term to use is Stewardship. It captures our relationship with the planet and our role as custodians and guardians.

What is Water Stewardship?

Stewardship is about taking care of something that we do not own. Stewardship approaches are those that focus on the management of public goods like forests, fisheries or freshwater resources, based on the premise that we are all accountable for the sustainable management of those resources and are, therefore, based on collective responses. We define water stewardship as

“The use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves site and catchment-based actions. Good water stewards understand their own water use, catchment context and shared risk in terms of water governance, water balance, water quality and important water-related areas; and then engage in meaningful individual and collective actions that benefit people and nature.”



At the Asia Scotland Institute, we work with Scottish Enterprise, HIE and SDI to help identify waste management and water related opportunities in Asia and then help pilot relevant SMEs through the often complex regulatory and cultural reefs to ensure successful outcomes. This puts us in a Public Private Partnership that enhances available channels.

By outlining the challenges presented in the Asian region I must emphasise that these also represent significant opportunities for the many of you at this conference with companies possessing the techniques and skills to address the issues highlighted. It is never too late to become involved and there are many ways of entering the market while adopting a prudent approach and working through experienced partners.

Thank you for your attention and I hope that you will consider working with the Asia Scotland Institute – see www.asiascot.com


Roddy Gow


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