Food, water, energy pressure on Mekong economies to rise this decade

business February 21, 2012 00:00


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The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries, including Thailand, will face challenges in managing food, water and energy this decade given rising demand, experts said yesterday.

Speaking yesterday at a conference on “GMS 2020: Balancing Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability”, Stephen Groff, vice president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said: “Food demand in the Mekong River Basin is projected to increase by 20-50 per cent by 2030.”

Growing demand in the GMS is based not only on its rising population but on changes in dietary habits towards food that is water-intensive, as well as an increase in tourist traffic, said Arjun Thapan, chairman of WaterLinks at ADB. He noted that these factors could put pressure on water supplies in the region.

“Energy demand is [also] growing by 9-16 per cent annually in the GMS,” he said, noting that thermal power and hydropower were large consumers of water.

The GMS comprises Cambodia, China (Yunnan province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.

Food security will likely be a problem 50 years from now and will remain out of reach of key constituents in the GMS, particularly in Cambodia and Laos, said Mark Rosegrant, director for the Environment and Production Technology Division, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The agricultural sector is the largest consumer of water.

Agricultural production will be increasingly constrained by competition for land and water, he added. However, water scarcity is expected due mainly to a slow increase in supply and rapid shifts of water from agriculture to meet domestic and industrial demands.

The non-agriculture sector is expected to account for 15 per cent of total water demand in Thailand by 2050, up from 7 per cent in 2005, according to the IFPRI.

More investment, particularly for research and development, in agriculture is required while “GMS countries need to move rapidly towards higher water-use efficiency in the agricultural sector, going beyond traditional water-consumption measures like canal lining with real reforms in water management”, Rosegrant said.

Groff cautioned: “The challenge [for the GMS] is to increase efficiencies in resource use, restore and recapitalise the natural resource base, and safeguard environmental quality while creating jobs and sustaining economic growth.”

The ADB forecast the six GMS economies’ growth rates for gross domestic product in a range of 4.5-9.1 per cent this year and 4.9-9.5 per cent from 2013 to 2016.