Water Security in Southeast Asia: Regional, National, and Sub-national Challenges

Organisation: NTS, RSIS

Authors: Christopher Chen, Angelo Paolo L. Trias
Research Themes:
Water security
Type: Newsletters
5 May 2020



Water is a fundamental element of survival and growth on Earth. As a prerequisite for life and an important economic resource, it supports all aspects of everyday activity. Ensuring that water is available, accessible and safe for current and future generations is among humanity’s greatest challenge. One of the most important Non-Traditional Security (NTS) challenges facing Southeast Asia is water security. This NTS Insight explores water security issues in Southeast Asia and examines the ways it threatens states and societies. While water security challenges are not new in the region, the nature of issues are changing, making it important to assess how such threats are defined, negotiated, and managed. The NTS governance process begins with identifying and understanding NTS challenges, and ways they are securitised. By looking at case studies at the sub-national, national and regional level, this paper seeks to present some of the major water security issues in the region, how they affect states and societies, and why they merit urgent attention and resources. This Insight explains why addressing sub-national water security challenges require consultative and participatory approaches that facilitate open democratic dialogue and local collective action.  It will also lay out how deliberate planning, careful implementation, and judicious monitoring of water management policies are needed at both the national and regional levels. Further, while it is not easy to reconcile developmental goals with environmental protection, the gravity of the situation requires more preventive diplomacy and subregional collaborative mechanisms which are geared towards averting water conflicts. Overall, it aims to help formal and informal NTS actors working through various channels to gain further understanding of emerging water security challenges in Southeast Asia.