Great cities are defined and illuminated by the water that surrounds them or flows through them. Be it the harbours of New York, the river estuaries of London, the Amsterdam canals, the waterfronts of Doha or the beaches of Sydney, water is what gives a city its unique magnetism and attraction factor. Cities are rarely spontaneous creations. They are often strategic settlements grounded by access to water and linked by transportation, trade and commerce. The historical positioning of cities proximate to fresh and navigable waters enabled settlements to flourish, grow and prosper. Now more than ever, cities and their waterscapes face challenges: water demand is rising, aquifers are being depleted and the threat of extreme weather is increasingly real.
Now more than ever, cities & their waterscapes face challenges…
New index ranks 50 cities on water resiliency, quality & efficiency
Most cities across the world today are in need of greater investment to improve their resiliency to extreme weather events and unforeseen water shortages, according to the inaugural Sustainable Cities Water Index from global design and consultancy firm Arcadis. Asian cities, in particular, face multiple challenges around water quality, efficiency and resiliency.
The index, developed by Arcadis in partnership with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), explores the three aspects that make up robust, effective and healthy waterscapes to develop an indicative ranking of 50 leading cities. The report finds that most cities, especially in Asia, need greater investment in their ability to withstand natural disasters and drinking water shortages, with climate adaptation and resiliency being the most pressing issues for future city leaders in this Region.
9/12 Asian cities ranked in bottom half…
… climate adaptation & resiliency are the most pressing issues for future Asian city leaders
The majority of Asian cities studied face challenges in water sustainability, with nine out of twelve ranked in the bottom half of 50 cities. The four developing economy cities of Jakarta, Manila, Mumbai and New Delhi finish last in the overall ranking, struggling with quality and efficiency especially. In Asia, Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo rank highest at No. 22, 23 and 25 respectively.
Singapore highest ranked Asian city, has become water innovator
Singapore ranks No. 22 globally and does well with the elements over which it has control, such as leakage, treatment and metering. However, its location makes the city water-stressed, vulnerable to flood risk, lacking in reserves and dependent on foreign freshwater sources. On this front, Singapore has invested in projects such as the Marina Bay and subterranean caverns.
Under the leadership of PUB (Public Utilities Board), Singapore’s National Water Agency, the country has become an innovator in many areas of water management. For example, it has overcome water shortages by changing negative public perceptions of wastewater reuse. Nevertheless, Singapore still faces challenges with water stress, reserves and highly polluted pre-treatment source water, as urban runoff is exposed to many manmade sources of phosphorus and sediment.
Singapore sees water as a new growth sector; govt is adopting a “close the water loop” strategy
The Singapore government has made significant improvements over the past few decades to become a regional water hub, as it recognizes water as a new growth sector. We see the government adopting a ‘close the water loop’ strategy to maximize yield, committing to infrastructure that is designed to collect every drop of rainwater, utilizing seawater and reusing endlessly. By optimizing the water systems through Four National Taps and investments into water R&D, Singapore can look forward to an efficient and sustainable water supply that is resilient and caters to its economic growth.
Chinese cities rank in bottom half; Wuhan working hard
The four cities studied in China rank in the bottom half overall – Hong Kong (No. 30), Beijing (No. 31), Shanghai (No. 35), Wuhan (No. 40) – and underperform especially in the quality and efficiency sub-indices. Beijing ranks higher in resiliency (No. 16) due to more green space and reserve water.
HK, Beijing, Shanghai & Wuhan underperform, especially in quality & efficiency
Despite ranking lowest among these four, Wuhan, with more than 12 million residents and the most populous city in Central China, is working hard to deal with water stress, as well as with water balance and reserve water. Flooding from the main Yangtze and Han rivers has been strongly diminished by building high levees and by constructing the Three Gorges Dam. But the location of the city in a large plain still makes the city vulnerable to surface flooding following intense rainfall. Extensive building activities have put a stress on the retention capacity of the city, as in the last decades many lakes and green areas have been urbanized thus the urban drainage system became overwhelmed.
Wuhan working hard on improvements through the Sponge City Programme
Presently the municipality is working hard on improvements through the national Sponge City climate programme. In total 30 cities have been selected as a pilot of the Sponge City Programme, Wuhan was one of the main cities to be selected. Sponge City was established in response to the alarming statistic that the number of Chinese cities affected by flooding has more than doubled since 2008 due to rapid urbanization. Arcadis was selected by the city of Wuhan to be their general advisor to the Sponge City Programme.
Sponge City refers to the innovative solution to create more green and blue public space to absorb, retain and detain stormwater. Sponge City stormwater system also refers to an integrated stormwater system with three stages, and each stage is targeting different rainfall events designed to capture 70%-80% of annual rainfall (24.5-35.2mm in Wuhan). At the same time of this process, Sponge City measures also are designed for diffuse pollution reduction and water resource utilization, thus, not only focusing on absorbing stormwater, but a holistic approach to alleviate water safety, water quality and water shortage issues all together.
Despite the challenges in China, the government is taking measures to develop long-term solutions in partnership with the private sector based on key cities’ needs. Blending green infrastructure with other flood control measures, the new solutions will help improve cities’ water sustainability and serve as a model for other Chinese cities struggling with water issues due to urbanisation and climate change.
Manila outperforms some of its Asian peers in efficiency with Tokyo not far behind
Manila outperforms some of its Asian peers in efficiency as its metering, wastewater reuse and water charges are higher than its regional peers, but it has room for improvement on the resiliency and quality indices. The greater metropolitan area is characterized by extensive informal settlements which developed without proper urban planning.
Flooding after rainstorms occurs regularly and levels of drinking water and sanitation provision are low. The Philippine capital has a sanitation coverage rate of just 12%, one of the lowest in the Index.
Metro Manila planning a flood protection programme with the World Bank
The other large challenge that Manila faces is an adverse geographic location with one of the most challenging climates on earth, as the Philippines is the most-exposed large country in the world to tropical cyclones (typhoons). Manila is prone to frequent flooding and four different types of water-related natural disasters. Metro Manila is now with support of the World Bank planning for a flood protection programme. The city’s score on water balance is also very low, due to a sizeable precipitation deficit in certain months and a huge surplus during the rainy season.
Despite challenges in the region, Tokyo stands out with the sixth best efficiency score despite the lack of wastewater reuse, and minimal reserve water and green space.
Great cities are defined & supported by the water around them
Great cities are defined and supported by the water around them. As water demand rises, aquifers are depleted and the threat of extreme weather becomes increasingly real. This means cities face the risk of being overburdened with too much water or stressed without enough. Cities which carefully and creatively use water assets and improve resiliency will be more liveable, safe and competitive.
The full rankings can be viewed at www.arcadis.com/waterindex.
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