Dec 28, 2000

Water Pricing Crucial for Asian Agriculture, ADB

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that the controversial practice of making farmers pay for water was essential to preventing environmental degradation and promoting sustainable agricultural development in Asia.

Although the practice has been heavily criticized by some academics and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), an ADB environment expert said farmers had a responsibility to share with governments the cost of water provision.

"It (the water tax) is important to prevent further degradation of the environment and to make development of irrigated agriculture sustainable," Kazi F. Jalal, chief of the ADB's Office of Environment & Social Development, told Reuters.

But NGOs have attacked the policy.

For example, the Thai government has been reprimanded for abiding by the ADB's loan conditions and charging poor farmers to use water fed through the government's irrigation systems.

Thailand borrowed more than $1.2 billion from the ADB to restructure its agricultural and social sectors after the country plunged into economic crisis in July 1997.

Jalal said the government needed the money from farmers to help repay the loans it took out to build new irrigation systems.

The ADB has suggested that Asian governments integrate their environmental objectives into national economic development plans and said that users of water resources had to pay for its "true cost" including environmental and social expenses.

"These costs would cover supply and disposal/treatment costs, and should be measured subsequent to the elimination of endemic inefficiencies," the ADB said in its latest environmental report.

SOURCE: Reuters Ltd.