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"ADB's Vision for Livable and Vibrant Cities in Asia" Speech by
Haruhiko Kuroda President, Asian Development Bank At the Joint Plenary Session for the World Cities Summit and the Water Leaders’ Summit 25 June 2008, Singapore

I.  Introduction

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to open today’s joint plenary session of the World Cities Summit and the Water Leaders’ Summit. With the pace of urbanization accelerating in the Asia and Pacific region, cities are playing an increasingly critical role in economic and social development. And the provision of water – one of our scarcest and most precious resources – is a central issue that the world will be dealing with for generations to come.

I would like to acknowledge the presence today of the government ministers and senior officials who have joined us, highlighting the importance of these issues to countries across the region and around the world. Only when all of us work together at local, national and international levels, can we hope to create livable and vibrant cities that serve the needs of all their citizens, and especially the poor.

II.  Asia’s Water Challenge

Singapore, as one of the 20th century’s most successful development stories, is indeed an inspiring venue to hold these discussions. I am proud to say that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is working very successfully with Singapore in both the water and urban management sectors, with the aim of spreading best practices throughout developing Asia and the Pacific. Our joint initiatives include the Asia Training and Research Initiative on Urban Management (ATRIUM) ; a regional network of knowledge hubs on water, under the auspices of the Asia Pacific Water Forum (APWF); and the Asian Water Development Outlook 2007, which was featured prominently at the 1st Asia-Pacific Water Summit held in Beppu City, Japan last December. We have translated the report in Chinese, Russian, Japanese, and Vietnamese to reach a wider audience.

One of the most important messages of this report – perhaps the most important – is that water is central to the larger development agenda. As such, we need to change the way we think about water – change to a broader perspective that considers all facets of economic and social development. Energy, food, environment, and industrial policies all have intimate linkages to water. Each will affect the others and, in turn, be affected by the others. Policies in all these areas will similarly be influenced by external forces like demographic transitions, advances in technology and communication, globalization, free trade, and increasing social activism.

The report tells us that there is reason to be optimistic – if cautiously so. Most of the region’s water problems are solvable through more appropriate planning and management. But strong leadership is needed to improve water governance, including management practices, institutional arrangements, and sociopolitical conditions.

While specific solutions will vary according to each country’s particular circumstances, some fundamentals apply across the board. Let me briefly highlight three of these.

The first fundamental is strong partnerships. All sectors – governments, the private sector, civil society, development institutions, media and others – have an important role to play in tackling these huge challenges.

Second, water quality management is an area which has been sadly neglected in much of the region. While the health, social and economic impacts of this neglect are yet to be assessed, they are likely very high already and will only get higher if water quality continues to deteriorate.

Finally, we need to pay systematic and continuous attention to capacity development. The region’s future water-related problems are likely to be quite different from those in the past. Solving those problems will require new skills, new approaches, and new mindsets.

I am very pleased that this Inaugural Singapore International Water Week will cover these issues through the roundtable sessions in the Water Leaders Summit and the Water Convention.

III.  Asia’s Urbanization Challenge

Water provision is, of course, a vital component of and a growing challenge in Asia’s cities. Planning for and managing the development of Asia’s cities also entails other significant challenges. It will be critical to look at these challenges in a holistic way to ensure a future of hope and opportunity for all.

Asia’s rapid urbanization is unprecedented. Some 1.1 billion people will move to cities in the next 20 years and by 2020, half the population of Asia will live in cities, including its 11 megacities. Providing jobs and services while improving the livelihood and quality of life for so many city dwellers is an urban management task of a magnitude never before attempted by humanity.

Some Asian megacities have been enormously successful. The Tokyo-Yokohama area, with a population of more than 60 million people, has graduated from a city to a nation-sized entity, with discrete economic organization and incomparable management systems. Shanghai and the Yangtze Delta area, with its 160 million people, are set to achieve a similar feat.

Unfortunately, these successes are not the norm, but the exception. For most major cities in Asia, growth rates are too rapid for their own infrastructure to keep up with and the benefits of new investments and infrastructure have not been distributed equally. Currently, more than half a billion Asians live in slums. Air pollution is affecting the health of millions. And by 2015, 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions will come from cities in Asia.

Extensive rehabilitation and extension of basic infrastructure is therefore essential. Every year, there is a $30 billion shortfall in the maintenance of urban infrastructure, leading to greater deterioration of existing infrastructure and worsening urban environments.

Clearly, Asia’s cities need assistance in coping with the physical impact of past and current urban growth. They need increased investments in sustainable infrastructure, which will only come through more appropriate and relevant financing options. And, they need technical assistance to plan for future growth.

In this context, I am very pleased that we will be launching one of ADB’s newest knowledge products – a study on Managing Asian Cities – at a session here this afternoon.The study analyzes the urban sector across Asia, and identifies three areas that need greater focus and resources:

  • coordination systems for identifying strategic priorities and organizing the city’s overall institutional framework,
  • financial structuring to help cities tap more than $1.5 trillion in available savings in the region and to encourage local capital markets and private sector participation, and
  • capacity development for city governments to understand the more complex and diverse financing structures available to them, and to implement reform within their current political environments.

IV.  Towards Sustainable Solutions

Ladies and gentlemen, better management of Asia’s growth will remain a substantial challenge. A challenge that requires a long-term, diversified pool of financing, technical resources and capacities. This includes development banks like ADB, the private sector, governments and civil society.

For our part, ADB recently introduced a new long-term strategic framework – Strategy 2020 – to guide our response to these challenges. In keeping with our vision of an Asia and Pacific free of poverty, we intend to focus our efforts on promoting and supporting inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional cooperation and integration.

Within that broad framework, we are specifically targeting both the water sector and the urban sector through a number of ongoing initiatives. For example, our Water Financing Program for 2006-2010 will provide 200 million people with sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, reduce flood risks for 100 million, and provide 40 million people with more productive and efficient irrigation and drainage services. It will also introduce 25 river basins to integrated water resources management (IWRM) and improve water governance through national water reforms and capacity development. Given the recent trend of soaring food prices, the urgency of increasing investment in rural water services to improve farm production and productivity has heightened significantly.Our Water Financing Partnership Facility allows our donor countries and other partners to contribute funds specifically for this purpose.

Our urban lending, at around $1 billion per year on average, is becoming more flexible and responsive through, among others, the use of multi-tranche and local currency finance. Our approach to urban development is integrated and widely collaborative. For example, as a member of the Cities Alliance, we assist governments in preparing sustainable urban development strategies. As a partner in the Cities Development Initiative for Asia, we help city governments coordinate and integrate the many activities involved in implementing urban investments, including funding for environmental infrastructure. With Singapore, we are implementing the Asian Training and Research Initiative for Urban Management, and we have recently established the Asia Infrastructure Project Development Company, together with the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise and 3 Singaporean water companies.

It is our hope that the annual Singapore International Water Week and the bi-annual World Cities Summit will advance the debate on urban issues in Asia and address the financing needs for urban infrastructure. I am sure all participants have important contributions to make to this endeavor, and I look forward to a meaningful and productive discussion.

V.  Conclusion

Let me close by thanking our distinguished hosts for organizing this important event, and by giving credit to Asia’s policy makers and urban managers who must brave a rapidly changing and often uncertain world. ADB is committed to help boost water and urban investments in the region, facilitate knowledge sharing and capacity development, and support the development and implementation of policies and reforms that produce sustainable results for “liveable and vibrant cities”.




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