Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Tackling Asia’s resource issues


Issue involved
  • Asia's growing significance manifested by it being now the world's largest creditor and main economic locomotive. And so is its insatiable appetite for natural resources which has led to resource competition between Asia's economies within Asia and far beyond in other continents. 
  • There is also domestic resource crunch forcing countries to rely on imported mineral ores, timber and fossil fuels, bringing international supplies under pressure and triggering price volatility. 

Resource Crunch
  • Though the appetite is there now but resources are poor, unlike North America and Europe which are endowed well with natural capital. Asia is the world’s most resource-poor continent in per-capita terms and resources are also unevenly spread. 
  • The resource crunch has led to growing:
    • external dependency, 
    • geopolitical tensions and 
    • environmental degradation. 
Stresses created by crunch
  • Pollution Stress
    • Asian cities dominating the list of the world’s most polluted cities
  • Water Stress
    • internationally defined as the per capita availability of less than 1,700 cubic metres per year. 
S.No.
Country
% of world Population
Share in Global water resources in %
1
China
19
6.7
2
India
17.8
4.3
    • Water-scarce India and South Korea are paying a higher price than China, with water shortages already beginning to reshape their economies, including the location of industries. 
    • We are using tomorrow's water for today's needs by:
      • Digging deeper wells, 
      • damming rivers increasingly and 
      • Transferring surface water across some basins.
        • This also accelerates environmental degradation.
    • We are also wasting water by:
      • Irrigation subsidies
      • Subsidised electricity and diesel fuel to farmers
    • Asia has one of the lowest levels of water efficiency and productivity in the world makes a bad situation worse. 
    • Asian Population under water stress
      • Present 50%
      • by 2030 - 66% (majority in Asia)
  • Food Stress
    • Genesis of problem
      • Water Stress --> Irrigation stress --> Food stress
      • Expanding cities --> Agriculture stress --> Food stress
      • Rising prosperity + changing diets + preference for animal-based protein--> Food stress
    • Solution
      • Genetic Engineering --> Increased agricultural productivity.
      • Organic farming --> No adverse impact on the environment + good sustained productivity 
      • No solution yet to reduced dependence on large amounts of water --> except by installing expensive micro-irrigation systems. 
      • Unlike North America and Europe, most farmers in Asia have small acreage --> Less capacity to invest in new technologies and irrigation systems. 
Conclusion
  • Water poverty + Food poverty +  Energy poverty --> Poor chained permanently to economic poverty.
  • Resource management --> better security and economic trajectory. 
  • Better technology needed for 
    • Reliable power
    • Clean up polluted or brackish waters, chemically treat and recycle wastewater, and make ocean water potable.
  • Water Pollution is likely to assume trans-boundary dimensions and compound inter-country tensions and discord
  • Resource disputes have become common across Asia. 
    • Measures taken by one nation or province to augment its water supply or storage capacity often threaten to adversely affect downstream basins, thereby stoking political or ethnic tensions. 
  • Asia must find ways to tame its resource competition or face greater geopolitical tensions and environmental degradation. 
  • Solution
    • Establish norms and institutions aimed at building rule-based cooperation. 
    • Improved inter-country relations and better trust
    • Balance between rights and obligations keeping in mind the diversity in Asia
    • Asian economies cannot sustain their impressive economic growth without addressing their resource, environmental and security challenges.

Based on Dr. Brahma Chellaney's paper presented at the recent 29th Asia-Pacific Roundtable

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