Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge
March 24, 2011
Director, North America Office at the International Water Association
Over the last three days, the international community convened in Cape Town, South Africa for World Water Day (WWD) to address the challenges and solutions focused on this year’s theme: Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge.
To understand the issues at hand, let’s first frame the context:
- Half of the world’s population today lives in towns and cities, and this number is expected to increase to two-thirds over the next decades.
- 95% of this growth will be in developing countries, already challenged with millions of people living in slums and squatter developments lacking adequate drinking water and sanitation facilities.
- Most of this growth will be in cities of 1 to 5 million people covering hundreds of thousands of municipalities.
The implications of this future urban expansion seem overwhelming when one considers the enormity of current-day challenges such as the need to not only build new infrastructure but also replace aging infrastructure, identify and remove emerging new contaminants, respond and prepare for disasters and climate change, consider the options for water efficiency and reuse, decide trade-offs between water and energy, in addition to address the complex and multi-dimensional social, health and economic challenges inherent to slum developments lacking adequate drinking water and sanitation services for the poor. Not to be overlooked is the need to address the treatment of wastewater which increases as access to drinking water and sanitation solutions are also expanded.
Complex Challenges Require Integrated Systems Thinking and Technology Approaches
Solving these complex issues will require innovative integrated solutions, closer collaboration among stakeholders – government, practitioners, scientists, economists, and civil society – and a broader systems thinking approach that views water and wastewater in interrelation with other urban services such as energy, transport, urban planning, business development, and parks and recreation.
\As a global network of 10,000 water professionals spanning 130 countries, the International Water Association (IWA) is facilitating and accelerating the learning process associated with new approaches to all aspects related to the water cycle, including system design and technology choices for the urban environment.
Over the past 2 years, IWA has convened workshops and developed resources from around the world as part of our Cities of the Future program to gather successful case studies and lessons learned from cities taking new innovative approaches to solving their water and sanitation challenges.
One such case is Xing Dao, China, which reveals the potential as well as some of the difficulties in rethinking the urban water nexus. In Xing Dao, research engineers from Germany and China have teamed up to develop a full-scale demonstration of the highly efficient water system of the future. Situated at the edge of the city in an area designated for the next round of development, they are working in a greenfield circumstance where they could start from scratch. In designing an integrated system for water treatment, wastewater treatment, water reuse and energy production, they chose a service area that was “as small as possible but as big as necessary.” This led the team to what they call a “semi-centralized” system design, optimally serving 20,000–70,000 people and in their case, about 50,000. The service area or “cluster” is centered around the integrated treatment plant, thereby minimizing network costs and energy while facilitating the repeated household-level reuse of gray water. They anticipate a 50 percent reduction in water use, significantly lower network costs and the production of energy from the plant that is twice the plant's own energy requirements.
Examples like this of which there are several in China, constitute water systems of the future. They exemplify innovation and the potential for increased efficiency that will be required to meet the challenges leading to 2050. But these kinds of innovations are only possible if they are co-designed alongside the buildings, road and parks which make up traditional city planning.
During World Water Day, IWA shared these practical solutions with others in two workshops, facilitating the panel discussion on integration points between ecosystem services, agriculture and water for energy during the session on “Linking Urban Water and Basin Management amidst Changing Demands”. Another important topic covered was on what it takes to address “Sustainable Urban Wastewater Management in Coastal Cities.”
As World Water Day concludes, the hard work to address our urban challenges continues. We applaud all those who work tirelessly in this effort and invite you to collaborate with us on creating the innovations required. In this context, we invite you to join us at the IWA Urban Water Solutions Congress, November 21-24 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Other Resources of Interest:
- World Water Day video interviews by WaterCube
- UNEP Publication: Green Hill, Blue Cities: An Ecosystems Approach to Water Resources Management for African Cities
- Article: Imperatives for Urban Water Professionals on the Pathway to 2050
For further details or interest in IWA activities, please contact Ms Kristina Kohler (email: Kristina.email@example.com).
The International Water Association, www.iwahq.org, is a global reference point for water professionals, spanning the continuum between research and practice and covering all facets of the water cycle. Through its network of 10,000 members and experts in research, practice, regulation, industry, consulting and manufacturing across 130 countries, IWA is in a better position than any other organisation to help water professionals create innovative, pragmatic and sustainable solutions to challenging global needs.