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Enhancing water security in urban areas

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09th-Feb-2018       
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Benedito Braga :
The formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is an endeavour of the highest importance to achieve reasonable water security in the world and ensure a prosperous and equitable future for humankind. SDG 6, ensuring availability and a sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, is central to today's water issues.
Water must also be appreciated, not only as an end in itself, but as a means for all other development (food, energy, green growth, women empowerment, disease prevention, cultural). It is, after all, a uniting vector running through all themes of development and the SDGs at large.
To this end, working simultaneously with countries and organisations involved in other goals is crucial, in particular when considering the mass migration to cities to be experienced in coming decades.
Urbanisation is one of the 21st century's most transformative trends. Cities are the dominant force in sustainable economic growth, development and prosperity in both developed and developing countries.
Currently 54% of the world's population (4 billion people) resides in urban areas. By 2030, 2 billion people will have migrated to cities, placing unprecedented pressure on infrastructure and resources, particularly those related to water (UN & World Bank).
The world's ten biggest cities will include Tokyo (37.2 million), Delhi (36.1 million), Shanghai (30.8 million), Mumbai (27.8 million), Beijing (27.7 million), Dhaka (27.4 million), Karachi (24.8 million), Cairo (24.5 million), Lagos (24.2 million) and Mexico City (23.9 million).
From 2016 to 2030, a 35% population increase is expected in these top ten mega cities. Forecasts indicate cities in developing countries including Karachi, Lagos and Dhaka will surpass cities like New York, Osaka and Sao Paulo by 2030.
This represents a 50% increase in demand for energy and water, generating challenges that exert pressure on water resources and threaten global water security. This has a palpable effect on public health, economies and development. Local solutions for local problems are most suited to meet these challenges.
While some progress has been made, there remains a lot to be done. 7C of the Millennium Development Goals, for example, has not been met, as 50% of the population remain unserved. This highlights the need for increased efforts on the sanitation provision.
Furthermore, as more than three-quarters (76%) of the world's mega-cities are coastal, there will be a considerable impact on water ecosystems from ridge to reef. Because of this, local and regional authorities lead initiatives targeting water-related obstacles, including housing gaps, climate change and an increased demand for food, energy and water.
Climate change in particular represents a daunting challenge for cities, as 40% of the world's population will live in river basins under severe water stress, while 20% will risk floods by 2030. Flooding and droughts have increased globally and the impact is devastating. Cities across the world are already experiencing the effects of climate change.
Reacting to the rise in infrastructure and houses visited by recent extreme weather phenomena, including hurricanes, fires and flooding, governments have repeatedly been called to be aware of the role adequate water infrastructure can play in alleviating these situations.
Basing ourselves on the premise of prevention is better than cure. It is evident responsible financing should be centred on urban areas and infrastructure in both interlinked rural and urban areas.
Numerous UN sanctioned global agreements compliment these actions, including the Paris Climate Agreement, the New Urban Agenda, the Sendai Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Water investment thus becomes a unifying factor in fostering healthier and more prosperous cities, offering impoverished populations a real chance at progress.
Although national governments will lead much of the implementation of these agendas, success will also rely on the commitment and empowerment of local and regional authorities to do their part. Cities and regions often lack guidance on how to achieve objectives locally, contribute to nationally set targets and implement concrete solutions.
Mayors need to develop strategies to deliver and adopt integrated approaches to overcome political, financial, technological and behavioural barriers.
Less consumption and better management are at the core of these efforts, underlining the need for improved infrastructure investment. By adding climate change to the equation, the need for adequate financing becomes even more pressing.
According to reports, more than €255 billion is needed yearly in global water infrastructure between now and 2030 to tackle it: €100 billion a year for adequate new water infrastructure; and at least another €155 billion to renew and improve equipment to adapt and climate change and mitigate global warming.
UN reports indicate that by 2030 there will be a 50% increase in demand for energy and water, requiring a water infrastructure capital investment of three times the current level. It is worth noting, return on investment in water is exponential, and widespread investments are necessary to promote development through water security.
In light of this, it is essential to formulate a mechanism at an international level, determined by the UN, for the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the future water targets of the post-2015 Agenda in order to understand with greater precision the current water situation and its worldwide evolution.
Additionally, the World Water Council encourages the development of a unique, constructively critical platform where ideas about global water challenges are exchanged and, where plans to implement these ideas are developed by policymakers, scientists, the private sector and civil society.
The World Water Forum, held in Brasilia, Brazil in March of this year, provides an ideal opportunity for all interest groups and civil society to come together and promote an agenda in compliance with SDG 6 for the next three years.
(Benedito Braga is the president of the World Water Council (WWC), an international multi-stakeholder platform organisation. Mr Braga is also secretary of state for sanitation and water resources for the state of Sao Paulo, and professor (on leave of absence) at the University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil).

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