Dr Bindu N Lohani, Vice President, Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Asian Development Bank, Philippines, spoke to OneWorld South Asia on the sidelines of DSDS-2014 in New Delhi. Excerpts from the interview.
OneWorld South Asia: The water-food-energy nexus is emerging as a critical issue all over the world. How do you look at it?
Bindu N Lohani: The issues of energy, water and food are interrelated. For example, in agriculture, if you want to grow food, you need water and energy too. So, if you waste water, you also end up wasting energy.
We also tend to waste the productivity where we could have produced the same amount of food with lesser amount of water and energy. Similarly, we can look at energy. If you are losing lot of water which is used for energy, you will want to be water efficient so that you don’t have to use lots of energy.
So, looking at these cases, opportunity between the sectors is what we need to explore more. This is where I think, we need to do a lot.
OWSA: Experts have time and again said that though crisis of water, energy and food is global but the solutions have to be local. Do you agree?
Lohani: When you say globally there is shortage of food and water it signifies that it is a global problem not a regional problem. When you start looking at the countries you start understanding them better.
In Asia, most of the water (80%) is used in agriculture. But if you think about the water issue in developed countries, they are not using 80% water in agriculture. Therefore, you are absolutely correct, it’s a global issue unless you bring it to the local level, you don’t understand where to take the action. ‘Think globally and act locally’, as they say.
OWSA: To what extent is technology intervention helpful in mitigating the losses which we are having?
Lohani: If we need to feed more people, if we need to conserve water, we need to be able to take the help of technology in terms of producing more food with less water, less energy. Thankfully, there are technologies available for minimising the wastage of water and energy.
OWSA: Do you think there is a need for integrating individual efforts which are happening all over the world?
Lohani: Everybody has to be a player because it is a global problem. Secondly, it is affecting everybody. Therefore, we need to have a global solution to the global problem.
However, I am of the opinion that we don’t have to wait for adopting the best practices. Individual efforts can be at all levels, not just in working towards harnessing renewable energy but also by consuming less energy.
The country also has a role to play. We also have a role. Our agenda has a clean energy programme of $2 billion a year which is 15 % of the lending which is not bad.
OWSA: One of the speakers said that by 2050 the requirement of water will increase by 30%, the requirement of food will increase by 50%. Do you think the world is ready to cope up with this kind of demand?
Lohani: If we continue to do the way we have been doing, yes it will create tremendous amount of pressure. We need to recycle waste water. So, one has to really think of ways to reduce, reuse and recycle and these three Rs have to be kept in mind.
Today, water is not priced properly. If only water is priced properly, may be some of the recycling technologies might become relevant.
OWSA: There is so much of noise and clamour about the climate change and food security. What kind of contribution the DSDS platform can show not just for a poor country but the whole world?
Lohani: DSDS is truly a DAVOS style meeting on sustainable development. DAVOS in Switzerland has a similar kind of discussion, where all the heads of the states go and talk on various issues including sustainability and then they act upon it.
DSDS has provided an excellent platform where people come and express their concerns about sustainability and development. The message needs to be provided to all segments of the society. Today’s world is all about communication and it does not have to be limited to the government; it needs to go to everyone. We have to prepare the younger generation to gear up for the upcoming challenges.
OWSA: With respect to energy and water security, how big is a challenge for knowledge disparity at the global level?
Lohani: Look at the OECD countries, 50% of their GDP comes from the knowledge economy. Middle income countries like India, China, Indonesia and Thailand have to explore new ways and see how they can get closer to the knowledge economy, so that they will not be trapped.
Asia pacific region, except Japan, South Korea and Singapore is far behind the OECD countries in terms of knowledge economy. We need to be able to have excellent research and development. Without it you can’t do much progress.
OWSA: Would you share some of the potential investment which ADB plans in India?
Lohani: In India, we are working in various sectors including urban infrastructure. We are supporting initiatives in various states including, Assam, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Meghalaya (Mawsynram).
We are funding the private sector to improve urban transport. India is too big a country to have just one plan. Programmes have to be tailor-made to suit the needs of specific states.
OWSA: How do you look at India’s Food Security Act?
Lohani: Social protection is very important. Different countries adopt different strategies for doing it. In Scandinavian countries, heavy taxes are imposed for providing several social services.
In other countries, people do some conditional cash transfer wherein you provide money to the needy. If someone has a poor family, eligible for conditional cash transfer, if you have a child in school, they will pay the fees. If you take them to medical centre, they pay for the health.
OWSA: Do you think the developed world should take the lead in reducing the green house gas emissions?
Lohani: The developed countries will have to reduce on their specific target in order to meet the global climate change. Everybody should be a part of this exercise which is for the benefit of the whole world. It is not only saving the earth, which is important but we also need to save our own country.
Kofi Annan, I think is correct when he states that quite a bit of responsibility should be owned by those who have significant amount of contribution.