Proefschrift KWR

Towards water-wise cities: Global assessment of water management and governance capacities


“The magnitude of challenges related to water, waste and climate change is intensifying and calls for improved water management and water governance in cities. The challenges concern too much, too little and too polluted water. Within 30 years, cities will grow with 2.7 billion people and will make up 66% of the 9.7 billion people on earth. About 15% of the global population is already threatened by the combined impacts of sea-level rise, river flooding and urban expansion in flood- prone areas, while storm events are expected to increase in frequency and magnitude. In addition, the world is projected to experience an estimated 40% freshwater shortage by 2030, along with heatwaves that increase in frequency, length and severity. Cities are the largest water polluters through the emissions of solid waste, poorly treated or untreated sewage and polluted stormwater runoff that leads to biodiversity loss, and threatens drinking water, fisheries and economic activities. The pressure exerted on cities is projected to increase in the 21st century, thus emphasizing the intensifying urban challenges of water, waste and climate change, which in turn make strategic efforts towards sustainability ever more important. This message is emphasized by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Nevertheless, the prevailing water governance systems are often still rooted in inflexible, fragmented and short-term conventional approaches. Fortunately, in the last few decades a transformation can be observed towards more horizontal intra-sectorial decision-making that deliberately includes private actors, leading to the emergence of two key approaches. First, Integrated Water Resources Management, which recognizes water as a key element of integration. Second, Adaptive Management that embraces the inherent uncertainty, complexity and risk involved in environmental governance. Within these contexts, cities emerge as focal areas of integration. Although both approaches are widely aspired to by international organisations such as UNDP, OECD or EU Mayors Adapt initiative, their concrete application to facilitate good water governance in cities is still largely undiscovered. The urban water cycle consists of many inter-related elements; amongst others, water infrastructure to secure basic water services, pollution control through wastewater treatment and blue-green spatial adaptation to alleviate extreme rainfall or heatwaves, and enhance groundwater recharge. An integration of these elements into an optimal management performance can be typified as water-wise management.

Despite these challenges, there is still little empirically-based understanding of how well cities perform with respect to integrated water management, which concrete steps can be observed on the path towards water-wise management, and which governance capacities account for water management improvements. In order to obtain such an empirical understanding, it is necessary to overcome a lack of coherence in the theoretical definitions and their operationalization by developing a unifying, comprehensive framework of measurable indicators. Accordingly, the objective of this dissertation is:

Increasing our understanding of what water-wisdom is and which governance conditions cities require to achieve it, by consistently analysing the water management performance and governance capacity of cities across the globe.

In order to fulfil this objective, three integrated assessment frameworks are developed; one to measure the main social, environmental and financial challenges that cities may have, that impact their ability to address water-related challenges (i.e., the Trends and Pressures Framework). Based on 12 descriptive indicators, these key challenges are quantified and expressed as a score of concern in 45 municipalities and regions across the world. The second framework – the improved City Blueprint performance Framework – measures the performance of urban water management practice. As such, a cohesive set of 25 indicators has been developed that covers key aspects of the urban water cycle such as drinking water, infrastructure, wastewater treatment and climate adaptation. The framework has been consistently applied in 45 municipalities and regions in 27 countries. The third framework analyses the governance conditions that account for increased water management performance. Based on the improved City Blueprint indicator assessment, the integrated water management performance of 45 municipalities and regions across 27 countries is analysed and used as a basis to identify tangible steps towards water-wise management. The data are obtained through an interactive questionnaire that is completed together with local authorities in cities. Next, a governance capacity analysis is developed, comprising nine conditions and 27 indicators that together are considered as a precondition for improvements in water management performances. The analysis has been applied in 15 cities with respect to the five most prevailing water-related challenges experienced in cities worldwide: flood risk, water scarcity, wastewater treatment, solid waste treatment and urban heat islands. The information for each city assessment has been gathered through 1) the study of literature, policies, reports and grey literature, 2) interviews with representatives of all relevant stakeholders, and 3) including constructive feedback from the interviewees. In total, 220 interviews have been conducted in 15 cities, and in these cities a total of 41 separate governance capacity analysis have been performed with respect to specific water-related challenges.”

(Citaat: Koop, S.H.A. Towards water-wise cities: Global assessment of water management and governance capacities (25 maart 2019))

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