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Arjun Thapan

WaterLinks  Chairman

  • Mr. Thapan has been at the forefront of water reform for over 30 years. In 1981, he cut his teeth on the Narmada (Gujarat) Project in India (partly financed by the World Bank) that gave him his first deep insights into the multifaceted business of water resources involving governments, the private sector, civil society, and international financial institutions.

  • After 20 years in public audit in India, Mr. Thapan joined the Asian Development Bank in 1991 and designed, prepared, and helped implement numerous urban and rural water supply and sanitation projects in South and Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, he stimulated the transformation of the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, a winner of the Stockholm Water Industry Award in 2010. His efforts in Viet Nam saw several reforms take root including corporate structures for unified water and wastewater services. In Laos, Mr. Thapan’s push for reforms resulted in the government’s grant of corporate status to a number of water authorities, and the creation of a water regulatory authority. In Nepal, Mr. Thapan was responsible for the design and implementation of several sustainable, community-based rural water supply and sanitation projects. His work in Sri Lanka in the mid- to late-90s saw operational efficiencies improve in the National Water Supply and Sewerage Board.

  • In Thailand, he prepared a policy-based loan for $600 million in 1998 to support Thailand’s agriculture sector. The restructuring of Thailand’s irrigation sector dates to this reform program. In Bangladesh he worked on urban flood protection and drainage under the auspices of the internationally developed Flood Action Plan. In India, he prepared and worked on the implementation of the Calcutta Environmental Improvement Project.

  • Mr. Thapan has numerous firsts to his credit. He wrote the Water Policy of the Asian Development Bank that has guided ADB’s work in water since 2001, and where he led the growth in water investments to $2.5 billion annually (about 25 per cent of the Bank’s total annual program). He was a member of the Gurria Task Force on Financing Water Infrastructure and contributed to the panel’s call for reforms in public and private capital flows to water projects. He was the first chair of ADB’s Water Community of Practice where he laid the foundation for enhanced sector work and knowledge development. He is the only water professional in any multilateral development bank to head a regional department – he was Director General of Southeast Asia Department from 2006-2009. In 2010, as the President’s first Special Senior Advisor for Infrastructure and Water, he designed and delivered ADB’s first Water: Crisis and Choices conference that stimulated solution-based thinking. Before retiring from ADB, he designed the Water Operational Plan 2011-2020 to sit within a Green Growth paradigm in ADB.

  • Mr. Thapan is a universally recognized, leading thinker on global Water issues. He designed and led the implementation of the Water Operators Partnership program in Asia – a global first that supports utility operational performance enhancement through peer-to-peer learning (now WaterLinks). As Chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Water Security in 2009-2011 he leveraged the council’s effort to propagate the Water-Energy-Food Nexus as a key determinant of development planning. He serves on the advisory boards of Suez Environnement, Xylem, Aquaya, and the World Toilet Organization. He is also co-Chair of the Efficient Water Management Specialist Group in the International Water Association. He speaks extensively on Asia’s water crisis and solutions at various global fora. WaterLinks has him as its first Chairman.