Water and the rural poor: interventions for improving livelihoods in Asia

Poverty continues to be a major concern in Asia despite the region’s high economic growth and rapid rural transformation. Most of the poor live in areas where natural resource conditions are suboptimal and water-related constraints are the root cause of low production and increasing vulnerability to natural disasters and climate variability. The importance of securing water availability for rural livelihoods is therefore increasing. As water is fundamental to productive agriculture
and other livelihood needs, how water is used and managed will have a significant impact on alleviating hunger and poverty. This study identifies the hotspots of poverty and water constraints in Asia, and analyses them in the context of livelihood systems. It identifies and maps 14 major livelihood systems based largely on agro-ecological considerations. The study demonstrates that there is tremendous potential for well-targeted water interventions to enhance livelihoods and
support rural development even in water-scarce environments, arguing that such interventions must be situated within the broader context of economic growth and environmental sustainability. Therefore there is an urgent need for a new approach to agricultural water management that complements ongoing livelihood transformation and supports dynamic rural change processes, while ensuring sustainable ecological and economic development pathways. It is hoped that this report will provide guidance for policies and investments in innovative water interventions to enhance rural livelihoods in Asia.