More than 75 per cent of Asia-Pacific countries face an imminent water crisis unless immediate steps are taken to improve resource management, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said Wednesday.

“While the Asia-Pacific region has become an economic powerhouse, it is alarming that no developing country in the region can be considered water-secure,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB’s vice president for sustainable development.

According to the bank’s Asia Water Development Outlook 2013, 37 of 49 countries assessed were “suffering from low levels of water security,” including those which lacked measures to tackle the problem.

“Twelve countries are shown to have established infrastructure and management systems for water security, while no country in the region was found to have reached the highest model level of water security,” the report noted.

South Asia and parts of Central and West Asia are faring the worst, with rivers under immense strain, while many Pacific Islands suffer from a lack of access to safe piped water and decent sanitation and are highly vulnerable to increasingly severe natural disasters.

“By contrast, East Asia, which has the highest frequency of hazards in the region, is relatively better off due to higher levels of investment in disaster defences, but urban water security remains poor in many cities and towns,” the study said.

According to the Manila-based bank, more than 60 per cent of households in Asia and the Pacific still live without a safe, piped water supply and improved sanitation.

It added that the region needs 130 billion dollars in investments for water supply and improved sanitation, adding that every dollar invested will likely return between 5 dollars and 46 dollars in reduced health care costs and increased economic productivity.

“Water supports health and livelihoods, grows our food, powers our industry, and cools our generating plants, and these different uses can no longer be seen in isolation from each other,” said Ravi Narayanan, vice chair of the Asia-Pacific Water Forum Governing Council.

“Unless these competing needs are balanced, water security will remain elusive, undermining development gains and the quality of life for billions of people in the region, especially the poor,” he added.

The report urged countries to invest in “reduce, re-use, recycle systems” to better make use of dwindling water resources and better sanitation and other infrastructure, mobilize additional resources to clean up rivers, and modernize irrigation systems.

Governments must also step up campaigns to educate people on water scarcity and the critical situation, said Ian Makin, an ADB water resources specialist.

“When you walk into the kitchen and turn on your tap, it’s very easy to forget that there are millions of people who don’t have access to that,” he told DPA. “People have to appreciate exactly how much water they’re using in their life and start to make sensible decisions.” Makin also stressed the need for governments to address pollution, which poses the biggest threat to water security, “because it has multiple impacts.” “If the water is polluted, using it for anything else becomes more expensive,” he said. “It will start to have impacts on the economics of the countries. It also has direct impact on people’s health and the ecology systems.”