FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Water Programme of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

The Water Team at FAO RAP aims to address systematic water challenges faced by agricultural production in the Asia Pacific Region. The key drivers of water degradation and scarcity in the Asia Pacific Region are increased agricultural production and climate change due to increasing populations, urbanization, and economic growth. 

Challenges in the region

Water scarcity: Water scarcity is increasing throughout Asia, even in seasonally wet tropical countries that have historically been viewed as having plentiful water resources. Population growth is the fundamental driver of increasing water scarcity, through demand for more and increasingly varied foods, and associated economic development and the rapid growth of cities and the water services they need.

Climate Change will both increase demand and reduce or make supply more variable, depending on the precise context. The geographic scope and climatic variability within Asia-Pacific is considerable, as is the variability in population, economic development, political and administrative systems.



Irrigation:  Irrigation has been an integral part of the food production system in Asia and consumes 85-95% of the water abstracted for human use throughout the region. Competition between water using sectors is rising, at local and regional scales. In the future, 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 through 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.

Water-Food-Environment Nexus: Water security is not only the inputs to agriculture and food, but also depending on the outputs from farming systems. Unsustainable agriculture practices may overuse water and other natural resources, overload nutrients to water body and environment, overlook the value of ecosystem services. These may cause biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems, in addition, lack of win-win strategy and incentives to balance.

FAO RAP Water Program

In response to these challenges, the Water Team at FAO RAP have developed four thematic programs:

Water Scarcity Program (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 in the agriculture water sector using appropriate and newly developed tools and methodologies. There is a natural synergy between many climate-smart agricultural practices and better water management in the face of water scarcity.

The WSP will promote practical water accounting and the development of rational and equitable water allocation processes. It will seek 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 will seek high level regional buy-in and regional cooperation across technical and governance issues. The WSP will 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 Program (NextGen): The NextGen Irrigation and Water Management Program draws on global best practices to accelerate the modernization of irrigation systems in Asia. The program aims to modernize and improve 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, the program promotes the implementation of integrated evidence-based policies and practices in micro and macro environments, using technological, organizational, and social innovations. The NextGen Programme is undertaken in collaboration with DFAT/Australian Water Partnership.

Transboundary Water Program (TWP): The Water Team in RAP is currently leading five transboundary (fresh)water projects engaging eight countries, valued at US$41 million and supported by the GEF International Waters Focal Area. Each project has unique objectives that respond to the specific environmental and socio-economic contexts; however, some common objectives include:

  • Enabling 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, and on the priority reforms and associated investments that will be needed to reverse 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 foster 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 GEF8 and other donors.

Eco-friendly Water Management Program (EWP): The EWP has been initiated to work on Water-Food-Environment Nexus, which started from sustainable wetland agriculture activities in Mekong Basin, has been gradually extended to broader scope and cover more Asia Pacific countries. The eco-friendly water management program aims to support member countries to develop strategies, action plans, and tools; share best practices and knowledge; and provide awareness and capacity building on sustainable water recourses management for resilient farming system, as well as coping with ecosystem deterioration and biodiversity loss. These include, for example, guidelines for sustainable agriculture water management, incentives mechanism; utilization of floods and saline resources; solutions for water quality and agriculture wastewater treatment/reuse; and restoration of water ecosystem and basin-wide productive landscape.