In what’s becoming an increasing trend, many water scarce cities globally are at risk of running out of water, with water availability now cited as one of the greatest risks to business continuity and growth according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report. The latest cities that made international headlines of “day zeros” are Chennai (India), and Cape Town (South Africa). Severe water shortage is already affecting many cities and around 1.2 billion people globally – almost one-fifth of the world’s population – suffer from intermittent water supply, and another 500 million people are quickly approaching this situation, living under water stress.
Nowadays having a water tap at homes is simple; having running water all the time when needed is not so simple. Despite billions of people have gained access to the water network, they receive water less than 24 hours, securing their water supply using ground or roof tanks, where water is stored during the supply time. Water demand has also outstripped supplies in many cities, affecting socio-economic development, food security and environmental sustainability.
Hassan Aboelnga, Chair (left) and Jan Hofman, Co-Chair (right) of Urban Water Security Working Group.
The world is becoming predominantly urban, dominated by human settlements and economic activities. According to the 2018 revision of World Urbanisation Prospects, more than half of the global population — 4.2 billion people — lives in urban areas, and this number is projected to grow by 68% to another 2.5 billion people by 2050. It is expected that population growth in the coming decades will be almost completely absorbed into urban settlements. Ambitious strategies to move water from rural sources to urban users offer opportunities for economic development but may prove unsustainable in the long term. Recent assessments speculate that urban systems may still confront water shortages. In many cases, decoupling of urban growth and the increase in water demand is necessary. This can be achieved by closing recovering and reusing water.
The International Water Resources association (IWRA) has developed a working group (WG) dedicated to Urban Water Security and chaired by Hassan Aboelnga and Jan Hofman. The WG aims to research and advance knowledge around urban water security to water professionals and industry, utilities and young professionals, and community representatives at all levels of government, including national and international agencies, to improve the operational conditions and management of urban water. Devoted to promoting solutions and best practices for the water community, the WG seeks to develop a series of engagements that facilitate dialogues that address pressing social, economic, and political challenges. We hope to facilitate debates around possible solutions that attend to issues faced by urban communities in diverse economic and political circumstances to have a holistic and sustainable impact.
Activities within the WG seek to facilitate key dialogues on the strategic goals and questions around sustainable water transitions and achieving urban water security for sustainable development, through webinars, workshops, research papers, guidelines, policy briefs and dialogues, among others. This would be addressed by answering key questions such as,
- How are sustainable water systems defined? What are differences across regions and economies? What are the implications for governance, policy, development, and financing?
- To what extent have urban areas adopted a new paradigm of sustainable transition toward water secure cities, and urban water systems incorporated or adopted processes and practices of sustainability?
- How can meaningful change towards sustainable urban water transitions incorporate values of equity and civic participation and what are the implications for urban systems?
This would help in better understanding urban water security (what does it mean, how we can assess urban water security, what are key challenges and opportunities), distil good practices and existing challenges of achieving urban water security, as well as defining the priorities of countries and regions towards urban water security at different scales.