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Ensuring Urban Water Security

By Robert C. Brears

The concept of ‘water security’ was first introduced in the Ministerial Declarations of the Second World Water Forum in the Hague in 2000. The declarations stated water is vital for the health of humans and ecosystems and a basic requirement for the development of countries; however, water resources and related ecosystems are under threat from pollution, unsustainable use, land‐use changes, climate change and other forces. As such, to achieve water security the declarations stated: water resources and related ecosystems need protecting and improving, sustainable development and political stability are to be promoted, every person needs access to enough safe water at an affordable cost and the vulnerable are protected from water‐related hazards.

The United Nations has defined water security as the ‘capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well‐being and socio‐economic development, for ensuring protection against water‐borne pollution and water‐related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability’.

Elements of urban water security

In the context of cities, the key elements of achieving urban water security include the following:

  • Access to safe and sufficient drinking water at an affordable cost in order to meet basic needs including sanitation and hygiene and safeguarding of health and well‐being
  • Protection of livelihoods, human rights and cultural and recreational values
  • Preservation and protection of ecosystems in water allocation and management systems in order to maintain their health and sustain the functioning of ecosystem services
  • Water supplies for socioeconomic development and activities (energy, transport, industry and tourism, etc.)
  • Collection and treatment of used water to protect human life and nature from pollution
  • Collaborative approaches to transboundary water resource management within and between countries to promote freshwater sustainability and cooperation
  • The ability to cope with uncertainties and risk of water‐related hazards, for example, floods, droughts and pollution
  • Good governance and accountability and the consideration of the interests of all stakeholders through effective legal regimes; transparent, participatory and accountable institutions; properly planned, operated and maintained infrastructure; and capacity development

Demand management

A key aspect of achieving urban water security is the implementation of demand management, which involves the better use of existing water supplies before plans are made to further increase supply. In particular, demand management promotes water conservation during times of both normal and atypical conditions, through changes in practices, culture and people’s attitudes towards water resources. Demand management involves communicating ideas, norms and innovating methods for water conservation across individuals and society; the purpose of demand management is to positively adapt society to reduce water consumption patterns and achieve water security

Purpose of demand management

Demand management comprises a set of policies that promote the better use of existing urban water supplies before plans are made to increase supply. Specifically, demand management promotes water conservation, during times of both normal conditions and uncertainty, through changes in practices, culturesand people’s attitudes towards water resources.

In addition to the environmental benefits of preserving ecosystems and their habitats, demand management is cost‐ effective compared to supply‐side management as it allows the more efficient allocation of scarce financial resources (which would otherwise be required to build expensive dams and water transfer schemes from one river basin to another). Finally, demand management ensures the equitable use of water by all users (domestic, industry, recreational, electricity, agriculture, nature, etc.).

With regard to actual water resources, demand management seeks to reduce the loss and misuse in various water sectors (intra‐sector efficiency); optimise water use by assuring a reasonable allocation between various users (cross‐sectoral efficiency) while taking into account the supply needs of downstream ecosystems and in situ uses of water such as recreational, fisheries, agricultural and energy production; facilitate major financial and infrastructural savings for countries, cities, companies and users by minimising the need to meet increasing demand with new water supplies; and reduce the stress on water resources by reducing or halting unsustainable exploitation of water resources.

Benefits of demand management

Overall, the benefits of demand management include:

  • Reduced electricity bills
  • Reduced carbon emissions from pumping and heating water
  • Reduced leakage
  • More water for a healthy environment
  • Increased water for urbanisation
  • Reduced need for increased supply
  • Reduced metered water bills

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Our Future Water has collaborated with Denmark’s State of Green to publish the new white paper ‘Urban Water Management: Creating Climate-Resilient Cities’. Download here first-hand insights into how some of Denmark’s leading companies, cities, utilities, and universities are working to deliver state-of-the-art water solutions for a sustainable future.

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In the 21st Century, the world faces a wide array of mega-trends including climate change and rapid population and economic growth. Mark and Focus covers both the risks and opportunities these mega-trends provide to business, governance, and society.

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Robert Brears

Robert is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley) and Founder of Our Future Water