Louise Ellis, Project Leader for the Resilience Shift’s work on water governance and the City Water Resilience Approach, explains why water resilience is critical for everyone.
Water is an essential condition for human health, a catalyst of economic development, an ingredient in urban place-making, and an element in shared culture, heritage and history.
The theme of World Water Day this year is ‘Leaving no one behind’. It builds on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6 of water for all by 2030. Today, 4 billion people – nearly two-thirds of the world’s population – are estimated to experience water scarcity at least once a year.
Water scarcity is not the only challenge facing the world. The World Economic Forum Global Risk Report for 2019 cites extreme weather events in their top 10 risks. With 10% of the world’s population living in low-elevation coastal zones, the increase in the frequency and severity of weather events is having a profound impact on communities globally.
At the same time, urban water issues are complex, involving overlapping and interconnected systems, and a diverse set of actors.
Water services are shaped by financial and political considerations, affected by urban growth, land use planning and environmental management. Given the complex nature of these relationships, planning for water resilience is neither simple nor straightforward.
Water resilience for major cities was highlighted by the impact of Hurricane Sandy. I worked as part of the Arup team collaborating with NYC Transit on work around storm surge resilience, as well as on waterfront developments at risk of flooding during hurricanes and storm surges. My interest further developed through work on the award-winning Welsh Water resilience framework and 30-year strategy. It was clear that a water resilience approach could be effectively incorporated into city planning, bringing resilience theory into practice.
The Resilience Shift’s contribution to the City Water Resilience Approach, and its research into resilient water governance has taken this one step further. This World Water Day we have launched the City Water Resilience Approach to support cities in their efforts to provide high quality water services to their growing populations and protect residents from water-related shocks and stresses and to connect them through water-based transportation networks.
We have developed it over the last two years in collaboration with our project partners, Arup, and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), along with city partners in Amman, Cape Town, Greater Miami and the Beaches, Mexico City, Kingston upon Hull, Greater Manchester, Rotterdam and Thessaloniki, and support from 100 Resilient Cities and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
As we are aiming to achieve a significant impact through the development of the City Water Resilience Approach, the project steering group includes the World Bank, Arup, 100 Resilient Cities, The Resilience Shift, Resolute Development Solutions and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
During the research and fieldwork stage of this project, we talked to the diverse range of stakeholders to understand their different perspectives. We acted as a catalyst to get different partners talking to each other. Moments of insight emerged where this engagement helped city stakeholders to understand the perspective of others, and how they could work together to address a particular problem.
We came in with fresh eyes looking at the shocks and stresses facing a city. We found that some cities were very focused on front-of-mind problems such as floods or drought, and our approach helped them to understand where there are blind spots or long-term stresses such as sanitation issues or the condition of waterways, for example.
The five-stage approach guides cities, together with all their partners, to formulate a clear vision of what urban water resilience means in the context of their water system.
It uses a globally applicable water resilience framework to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the urban water system and provides a detailed plan for developing and prioritizing key actions in cities, and then implementing them to achieve the city’s water resilience plan.
You can also find the team behind the City Water Resilience Approach at various events this year including the Resilient Cities Congress in Bonn on Thursday 27 June 2019 and at SIWI World Water Week between Sunday 25 August and Friday 30 August 2019.