FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Water Programming at FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP)

Water programming at FAO RAP aims to address systematic water challenges faced by agricultural production and support governments in implementing policies to address these challenges in the Asia Pacific Region. The main drivers of water degradation and scarcity in the Asia Pacific Region are increasing population, food demand, urbanization and economic growth. These drivers are exacerbated by climate change. 

Water Challenges in the Asia Pacific Region

Water scarcity is increasing throughout the Asia Pacific, with more than two billion people being exposed across the region. The situation is particularly acute in South and East Asia, yet scarcity is also increasingly experienced in the seasonally wet tropical countries that have historically been viewed as having plentiful water resources. Population growth and economic growth are the fundamental drivers of increasing water scarcity, through demand for more and increasingly varied foods (including meat), and the rapid growth of urban areas and the water services they need. 

Climate Change will both increase water demand and reduce or make water supply more variable, for example by making wet seasons shorter and more intense, and dry seasons longer depending on the precise context. The Asia and Pacific is more vulnerable to climate change risks than other regions of the world, due to its high dependence on natural resources and agriculture, densely populated coastal areas, weak governing frameworks and high poverty rates. 

Irrigation is an integral part of the food production system in the Asia Pacific and consumes up to 90 percent of the water abstracted for human use throughout the region. As economies grow and diversify, the proportion of water historically allocated to irrigation will be reallocated to other high-value uses (such as water supply and sanitation). Climate change will further affect irrigation water quantity and quality, and it will impact irrigation water demands and growing seasons, which will increase uncertainty in irrigation planning. As a result, the irrigation sector will face significant challenges in meeting growing food demands while using less water. Greater attention will need to be paid to the relationship between irrigation and maintaining river flows, their associated ecosystems and their services, which benefit humans directly (for example, coastal fisheries) and indirectly by maintaining biodiversity and healthy landscapes.

Transboundary water governance: Sixty percent of transboundary river basins worldwide still lack any cooperative arrangement for water management. Existing transboundary water treaties and institutions are often weak in terms of their mandate, design, resources and enforcement mechanisms, and only about a quarter of all treaties cover the entire basin to which they apply. With over 780 million people dependent on transboundary rivers in the Asia-Pacific, governance of shared water resources is vital not only to sustain livelihoods, agriculture and development, but also to secure regional and international stability.

Water policy and regulatory challenges: Policy responses to achieve sustainable water resources management in the Asia-Pacific vary across countries, and public and political awareness with regard to water scarcity is often limited (especially in countries with monsoonal climates). Even in cases where water policies are in place to improve water scarcity management, there is a big gap between policy and practice. Effective operationalization of water policy is fraught with challenges, including overlapping jurisdictions and mandates, inadequate budgets for updating and enforcement and ineffective stakeholder engagement. Countries require support in augmenting their policy frameworks to address worsening water scarcity, including robust data collection and sharing, fair, inclusive and transparent water allocation systems and support to farmers to adapt to changing water resource availability and demand.

FAO Water Programming in the Asia Pacific

Water programming at FAO RAP responds to these challenges under three integrated and synergistic programmes: 


Water Scarcity Programme (WSP): The WSP aims to bring agricultural water use to within sustainable limits and prepare the sector for a productive future with less water. Between 2020 and 2025 the WSP will assess the scope of water scarcity in the region, evaluate effective management response options, work to improve governance and assist partner countries to implement adaptive management strategies in the agriculture water sector using appropriate and newly developed tools and methodologies. There is a natural synergy between many climate-smart and nature-based solutions and agricultural practices and better water management in the face of water scarcity. 


The WSP promotes practical water accounting and the development of rational and equitable water allocation processes. It seeks to embed these activities at a high-level and represent the interests of all water stakeholders, with the aim of improving policy coherence between water-using sectors. The WSP works toward high-level regional buy-in and regional cooperation across technical and governance issues. The WSP will also undertake field work to understand water tenure and set a framework for the inclusion of all water users in a transparent and equitable manner. 


Next Generation Irrigation and Water Resources Management Programme (NextGen): The NextGen draws on global best practices to accelerate the modernization of irrigation systems in the Asia Pacific. The programme aims to improve and modernize irrigation systems to ensure a bioeconomy that balances economic value and social welfare with environmental sustainability. Through addressing cross-cutting issues in irrigation and water management, including but not limited to, irrigation performance, food security, gender equality, fisheries and aquatic biodiversity. NextGen promotes the implementation of integrated and evidence-based policies and practices in micro and macro environments, using technological, organizational and social innovations. NextGen is a collaboration with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Water Partnership (AWP). 


Transboundary Water Programme (TWP): The TWP at FAO RAP aims to improve transboundary cooperation for effective management of shared water resources in the Asia and Pacific region. FAO-RAP water programming currently consists of five transboundary freshwater projects engaging eight countries, valued at USD 41 million and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) International Waters (IW) Focal Area. Each project has unique objectives that respond to the specific environmental and socio-economic contexts of the countries; however, some common objectives include:

  • Supporting countries to address freshwater resource management and ecosystem health in the transboundary basins and coastal zones by creating an enabling environment for transboundary cooperation and action 
  • Building capacity in core skills required for effective transboundary water management (water accounting, water allocation, environmental flow assessment, etc.) 
  • Developing mechanisms to effectively manage transboundary flood risks and erosion processes, priority reforms and associated investments that will be needed to reverse water degradation trends and enhance environmental security 
  • Enhancing water and food security and climate resilience in shared river basins, and where appropriate, relieving pressure on over-exploited water bodies  
  • Establishing new operational mechanisms and fostering effective transboundary water management to manage nexus trade-offs.

Efforts to build upon and expand the programme into new countries and water bodies are ongoing, targeting GEF-8 and other donors.