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Protecting what we value: World Water Day in Asean

The theme of this year’s celebration of World Water Day, commemorated today (Mar 22) is “Valuing Water,” which highlights the vital role of water sources – from our health and well-being to the sustainability of our society’s economic growth and development, notes Dr Theresa Mundita S. Lim, Executive Director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity.

By The Phuket News

Monday 22 March 2021, 04:54PM

Valuing water means protecting the sources that supply it. Photo: Wai Yan

Valuing water means protecting the sources that supply it. Photo: Wai Yan

What does it actually mean to value water? Is it just valuing the water that comes from our tap or the very sources that supply it, such as rivers, lakes, wetlands, and other inland water ecosystems?

“The Asean Centre for Biodiversity is posing these questions as it expresses solidarity with the international community in celebrating World Water Day. We hope to raise awareness on the essence of giving value to this important resource from which life flows. I couldn’t agree more with the oft-repeated statement ‘we protect what we value’. This holds true for water, which all living things on the planet need to survive,” Dr Lim says.

“It is a refreshing development that ongoing efforts to ensure that access to safe and sufficient drinking water, as envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goal No. 6, are bearing fruit: more than 83% of the Asean’s population have access to improved drinking water, while around 80% have access to improved sanitation facilities in 2018, according to the Asean Sustainable Development Goals Indicators Baseline Report 2020,” she adds.

“Water courses abundantly in the region as we are blessed with diverse ecosystems that provide the water that we need. The inland wetlands, which provide freshwater, occupy almost 2 million square kilometres. Forests, which contribute to water quality and supply, make up 46% of the Asean’s total land area. Thriving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are critical in sustaining the water cycle and ensuring water quality and quantity. 

“However, as a widely used resource – from the household level to the economic sectors such as agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure, clean water is finite and is largely dependent on the integrity of ecosystems that serve to replenish it.

“With the mounting pressure on these ecosystems, it becomes necessary to take into account this crucial biological interconnection and integrate sustainable mechanisms in supplying and utilising water,” Dr Lim explains.

“Although technologies and facilities that will increase the efficiency of water use are important, investments in water should cover its entire cycle, including the processes that support natural groundwater recharge. Our current water situation requires scaling up of financing support for the protection and sustainable management of forest and wetland ecosystems as part of an integrated and cross-sectoral approach to managing water systems.”

The Dasgupta review on the Economics of Biodiversity released last month provides a rousing assessment of how nature is a ’blind spot’ in the accounting systems that dictate national finances and the decision-makers. 

In the Asean, the ACB has been working closely with the Asean Member States (AMS) in efforts to introduce natural capital, such as water and its related ecosystems into the national and regional accounting systems. At the national level, Vietnam has adopted a national policy on Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), while natural capital accounting efforts are being explored in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand.  

Under programmes, such as the Asean Heritage Parks (AHP) Programme and the Asean Flyway Network, the ACB with the AMS has undertaken various initiatives to support the effective management of critical watersheds and wetlands in the region important to water provision. These programmes likewise foster cooperation across the Asean, a region that is both a rich source and a prolific user of water resources, Dr Lim notes.

“As the world strives to build back better, now is the right time to develop and implement policies and mechanisms that take into consideration the crucial role of nature in supplying our basic needs such as water, to survive. Properly recognising this will help develop and put in place integrated water management systems that account for the true value of nature in water security,” she says.

“Appreciating and protecting the ecosystems helps sustain this life-giving resource. The World Water Day celebration should remind us of this significant interconnection, including the need for a whole-of-community approach to ensure a sustainable supply of safe and clean water for all,” Dr Lim concludes.

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