Awaji Conference Statement 2008

Awaji Conference Statement
9th Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference Japan
Saturday, August 2, 2008

On August 1 and 2, 2008 the 9th Asia Pacific Forum-Awaji Conference-was held at Hyogo Prefectural Awaji Yumebutai International Conference Center and the Hotel Anaga, with the main theme: Water resources in Asia: What lies in the future? The Conference featured enlightening presentations and lively discussions.

Humans cannot live without water. The primary elements supporting human life are air, water, and food. Out of these, air is public property, granted to all without restriction. By contrast, food is a major commodity in society, and in the pursuit of its procurement humans have drawn on their every resource, building a myriad of economic and social systems. Water is situated in between air and food in that ideally, it is public property which should be granted to all for their survival, but that in fact it is a primary good and commodity which can be supplied safely and in sufficient quantity only with the intervention of society.

In contemporary society, water is used for a number of purposes. First, it is used for drinking and for carrying on our daily lives. Secondly, it is used for agriculture, and third, it is used for industrial purposes. Out of these, drinking water must satisfy high levels of safety and quality, while agricultural water must be supplied in large quantities, taking up more than 60% of the entire water supply. From where, then, do we procure the water which is essential for our survival and our social activities? While the water on the earth's surface is overwhelmingly seawater, most living creatures including humans cannot utilize seawater in their bodies, relying instead on freshwater. Therefore, we have traditionally utilized water from three sources: river water, rainwater, and groundwater.

Contrary to the Biblical saying that Heaven "sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike," the freshwater on our planet's surface is characterized by its uneven distribution. Spatial maldistribution is marked, as can be seen in the stark contrast between monsoon areas and deserts. There is also maldistribution in terms of time, as evidenced by the wet and dry seasons in monsoon areas. The establishment of civilization has walked hand in hand with efforts to overcome this maldistribution. It started with households storing rainwater on their own premises, and progressed to villages building ponds and waterways to supply villagers with water for daily life and for farming. The ancient wisdom of the effective utilization of rainwater is now being deployed in a new style, as illustrated in a report on a project in Singapore presented at this Conference. The small island on which the city-state of Singapore is perched is made up of several watersheds. In the project, called Marina Barrage, one of the rivers will be dammed at the outlet to store the rainwater collected in the river after a tropical shower. Without the dam, the water would run out to the ocean in 20 to 30 minutes.  The four great ancient civilizations were all established in the watersheds of giant rivers. Agricultural civilizations were made possible by the irrigation facilities which allowed the utilization of river water for daily use and agriculture. This illustrates the fundamental significance of water resources, unevenly distributed around the globe, on human civilizations.

"He who rules the water, rules the nation." This ancient truth remains just as true today. The ability to rule is absolutely necessary in order to govern the water and procure the water necessary for a civilized society. This rule must go beyond the narrow concept of "administration." It must be the broader concept of "management," which is the ability to link together the local water resources and the needs of the society. On the one hand it means the continuous achievement of technical successes, while on the other it means enlightening the public and securing their support and cooperation. This is because issues relating to water resources are often too wide-ranging to be solved by a single local government or nation state. Not only that ? as a result of the rapid changes of our contemporary society and our natural environment, the issues pertaining to water are now even appearing to be challenges on a global scale. In that sense, dealing with water issues is coming to the point of requiring governance on the regional, national, and global levels.

Why is the issue of water resources assuming such serious proportions for our planet? The fundamental reason is the pressure of demand on the water supply. The world's population quadrupled in the 20th century, requiring not only water for drinking and daily life, but also vast quantities for the production of food to feed those mouths. Industrialization further increased the need for water. The rising dietary standards and a shift in preference to meat-eating increased the per capita consumption of water (large quantities of water are consumed for the production of grain to feed beef cattle, pigs, and other livestock). In particular, the population growth and rapid industrialization of Asian countries such as China and India are accelerating the demand for water. It is not an easy matter to supply the water to satisfy that demand.

In addition, it is not unusual for the efforts of a society to utilize water effectively and increase food production to result in unintended tragedy. In the 1960s, the Soviet project of agricultural land development ended up in the desiccation of the Aral Sea. The use of vast quantities of water for food production in the "green revolution" is resulting in the deterioration of well water quality in India and Bangladesh. The Australian efforts in rice farming using groundwater attracted much attention, but ended in failure due to salt damage and the exhaustion of groundwater. Groundwater was also utilized for agriculture in Saudi Arabia, but due to falling water levels the government announced the project will be terminated in 2016. The use of vast quantities of groundwater has resulted in harmful situations all over the world, including groundwater exhaustion, toxic damage to water quality, and land subsidence. It is vital that we maintain a perspective of sustainability and make sure our technology does not go in the wrong direction.

In addition, our planet today is under attack by abnormal natural phenomena which can almost be described as water on a riot. Anomalous weather conditions are giving rise to polarized situations of either too much rain or too little. While on the one hand, rains and winds from localized torrential downpours or tropical storms cause major damage, on the other hand there are more droughts, desiccation of rivers and lakes, and desertification. As indicated by the melting ice in the polar and alpine regions, the abnormal climate seems to be set against a background of a major climatic change: global warming. Due to global warming, the snow that used to accumulate in high mountains has now turned to rain, which runs down the mountainside in a rush and is threatening to stop providing year-long water to the oasis towns dotting the foot of the Tianshan Mountain Range. Global warming is creating a shift in the local flora and crops (in the northern hemisphere, the temperate region is shifting north), and confusion is ensuing because human societies are unable to keep up. Another source of concern is the rising sea level and the possible submergence of populated places around the world. It is not entirely an exaggeration to describe the situation as the revolt of water toward human society.

Precisely because we are having difficulty managing our water, we must face our water resource issues head-on and deal with the situation with a higher level of governance than we have conventionally. It was with reason that the "Asia-Pacific Water Summit" held in Japan in December 2007 argued for the "water security" and emphasized leadership and responsibility. How, then, may we be able to deal with these issues?

Water issues by their nature should basically be dealt with one watershed at a time. Humans from ancient times have created civilizations cradled in nature's bosom, dozing together with water. That spirit must be given life as good governance now and in the future. As can be seen in the successful Singaporean case of effective utilization of rainwater within the watershed area, it is essential that the various responsible parties within the watershed area exercise comprehensive management of the area. However, achieving such management is not an easy matter. The word "rival" takes its meaning from "two parties facing each other about a river." When we consider how squabbles relating to water are neverending even within a single country, we can readily imagine the difficulty involved in the watershed governance of international rivers. For instance, China is not a party to the international management of the Mekong River. Turkey, situated upstream of the Tigris-Euphrates, has built a number of dams without regard to those downstream. The international community must soon reach a level of cultural maturity where they can rule and utilize the water together.

In that sense, China's South-to-North Water Transfer Project (SNWTP) reported in this Conference is a true marvel. The project plan is to build three waterways and canals to send the abundant waters of the Yangze River to North China, where population growth, industrialization, and desertification are progressing (as of the present, the project has been put on hold upstream, with one waterway each to be opened midstream and downstream). In light of how project management is not easy even within a single watershed area, this decision to distribute water resources from the Yangze to the Hwang Ho watershed, hundreds of kilometers away, was made possible only by the existence of a single, powerful government. While this project fills us with admiration as a model of high-level governance, we nevertheless cannot help feeling some degree of apprehension at the possibility of such massive Chinese efforts to rebuild nature, as in the Three Gorges Project and this South-to-North Project, causing abnormal changes in the natural environment in the Yangze watershed, threatening the bosom of nature.

The discussions in this Conference highlighted the need for measures which combine three areas ? technological solutions, market solutions, and societal solutions ? to deal with the water resource issues which are becoming increasingly serious worldwide.

While it goes without saying that technological expertise is vital in all cases, the most remarkable advancement in recent years has been the technology of saltwater desalination. The water purification technology using reverse osmosis membrane, whose development has been led by Japan, is now available for use, and is proving very useful especially in arid coastal areas such as the Middle East. In a previous passage we mentioned only rivers, rain, and groundwater as sources of water, but the advancements in technology have now made it possible for us to add seawater to that list. The problems with this method are cost and the increase of the salt concentration of seawater after fresh water has been extracted.

When we discuss market solutions, the concept of virtual water is important, and was one of the key terms in this Conference. For instance, let us look at how giant metropolises such as Dubai in the arid Middle East procure water. Drinking water aside, the nation relies on imports for almost all of its food. In other words, the massive amounts of water required for crop and livestock farming are being substituted by the import of food. This is equal to importing large quantities of water in the form of food. In this way, various regions around the globe can enjoy the benefits of market trade, as long as they have the financial resources to do so. This is the utilization of an international market economy.

Virtual water is also applicable to Japan. Located as it is in a monsoon area, Japan appears to have plentiful supplies of water. However, with its low degree of food self-sufficiency, Japan is actually importing vast quantities of water in the form of food imports. The Japanese people are reaching a point where they must reorganize the perspectives of food and water security, ensuring they are incorporated in the citizens' lives now and in the future.

Societal solutions, in a word, come down to the issue of governance. Government must enable the integrated management capabilities in a watershed. Not only that, we are unable to deal with water resource issues, which go hand in hand with global climate changes, without the following: Supply of water between and beyond multiple watersheds; international agreements; and global governance.

In doing so it is imperative that we have an accurate awareness of what is going on in our nation and on our planet. The analyses and warnings of insightful scientists and experts must lead our societal measures. What is more, the scientific awareness must not remain the sole possession of a limited elite class. Social education is what is important. The general public must take on an awareness relating to sustainable water resources, and our measures must be accompanied by a revolution in our lives in society, in line with water security. Today, with the global climatic abnormalities challenging humanity with a shared test, the governance of water resources will become possible only by the international community achieving new standards of awareness and cooperation.

Back to Top