By Prabin Rokaya
I was one of the lucky youth participants who had the opportunity to participate at Stockholm World Water Week. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Water Team made participation possible for five Asian youth participants and I thank them for accepting me as part of the team.
Honestly, I am not a big fan of any banking institution, whether they are private, public or intergovernmental. This is partly because of a deep impression that the priority of financial institutions will always be to make profit for its shareholders instead of prioritising (rural) development. The other reason is that young people have limited access to their loans and grants, while young professionals can be agents of change. The ADB has proven this time it wants to focus both on development and youth.
This year, the ADB started to invest in youth and has launched a two-year youth pilot project focusing on . capacity building and developing leadership skills. It seems to me that this will not only result in the empowerment of youths, but also increase work efficiency within youth organisations.
Outside of the youth programme, ADB-projects do not have a youth component. Even the sub-component Capacity Building prioritizes capacity building of organizations, institutions and inter-organizational and group relations (public, private and civil society). It does not explicitly include the youth. I am hopeful that in the future, if the youth programme proofs successful, there will be some shifts in the ADB’s priorities, and youths will be in centre of it.
The water problems in Asia are critical, and the youth is one of most affected groups. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (2011) estimates more than 700 million young people of Asia and the Pacific are facing severe water challenges. Recognition of water as basic human right alone cannot solve these problems. Neither will strong speeches of political and business leaders. However, promotion of small-scale, youth-led local innovations in producing potable water can highly contribute on solving some of these problems. Similarly, young people can also be water ambassadors at a local level, promoting, lobbying and advocating for safe access to water for all. And young professionals need to take over the work of the senior professionals in the future.
If taught well, and informed well, young people can take up the responsibility to address current and future water challenges. Many of them do it as we speak. However, they need different types of support, from capacity building to financial investment. This is where the role of the ADB needs to be larger than ever. The ADB can fund small- scale, youth-led water projects and continue to support the youth’s voice in big forums like the World Water Forum. There needs to be further ADB Youth partnerships recognizing youths as an opportunity, rather than responsibility. Only working together can build synergy and help solve critical water problems.