What do casinos in the Las Vegas desert, beachside cultural sites in Malta, and palm groves around centuries-old markets in Marrakech have in common? The answer lies beneath a veneer of seemingly disparate societies and geographies: this improbable urban trio shares the same story of dwindling water resources and associated crisis management. The good news is that these fast growing, tourist-invaded, and arid urban areas are constantly writing new chapters of their water stories. We believe that these chapters, featuring a world of possibilities for innovation and learning, are worth sharing with water scarce cities around the world.
The Water Scarce Cities Initiative (WSC) is a pioneering World Bank global program that connects diverse stakeholders to share their experiences in bolstering integrated approaches for water security and climate resilience. With its sights set on collective progress, WSC partnered with the 5 + 5 group for the Water Strategy in the Western Mediterranean (WSWM) to hold a Regional Water Scarce Cities Workshop in Casablanca, Morocco from May 22-23, 2017. From Cyprus to Barcelona (Spain), the workshop inspired and motivated over 40 diverse participants from the Western Mediterranean region and beyond to explore the connections between their water security and urban resilience experiences.
Eliminating inequality is integral to the Sustainable Development Goals , from ‘universal access’ to water, to ending poverty ‘everywhere’. Yet in a world where the politics of who gets what is increasingly polarised, leaving no-one behind is fundamentally a political project.
In a recent study with WaterAid in Nepal, for example, we found that in rural areas a combination of poverty, caste, and geography have shut the poorest fifth out of politics. While access to water has increased significantly for others, they are lagging behind.
Every city, country or district has its own political rules, most of which aren’t written down. Yet despite all this complexity, experts working on essential services like water, sanitation, health or education can avoid some common political missteps, wherever they work. Here are four most typical ones:
I am constantly startled by references to “population growth” as a cause of a number of development challenges. Whether it’s urbanization, food security, or water scarcity, all too often “population growth” is cited as a cause for pessimism or even a reason not to strive for progress. I can almost see Thomas Malthus grinning at me from the shadows.
It gets worse. I recently reviewed a paper where higher fertility among minorities was touted as an explanation for their poverty! A few months ago, a respected professional wrote asking why we weren’t doing more on family planning, since fertility in Africa would pretty much stymie any efforts to provide infrastructure-based services! I hear statements to this effect routinely from policy makers in charge of infrastructure ministries and projects (“how can we keep up with the population?” or “nothing we do will be enough unless we control the population”) but am always amazed when I hear them from scientists of different hues.
So I thought I’d try to set the record straight:
This past February, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta officially declared the drought in his country a national disaster. No rain had fallen for months in East Africa, causing a dire living situation.
Tribes migrated to find water and food, and we saw an increase in the amount and severity of conflicts, specifically between herders and owners of large farms.
In the cities, the situation is not much better. Nairobi’s main water supply is a dam which is currently only 20% full. The Nairobi Water Company is rationing water, and many people only have running water once a week.
Agriculture is suffering; the price of milk has risen from 40 to 65 Kenyan Shillings (KES) for half a liter in just six months. Maize meal, a staple food, has gone up nearly 40%, with the state recently announcing a subsidy for maize.
In the face of the Southern California’s semi-arid Mediterranean climate, compounded by several years of drought throughout the state, the region has developed local resilience through state-of-the-art groundwater management.
The State has long faced water security challenges, marked by physical water scarcity, increasing economic expansion, and reliance on imported water. Traditionally water-strapped regions such as Orange County are faced with the difficult task of delivering safe and sustainable water to more than 3 million inhabitants. Situated on the coast of Southern California, Orange County includes many economically successful cities and draws the majority of its water resources from the large groundwater basin that underlies Northern and Central Orange County.
The region is also not homogenous. There is a large disparity in the levels of treatment per country: we see countries like Chile, which treats 90% of its wastewater, and countries like Costa Rica, which treats approximately 4% of its wastewater.
Last week, on April 20th, Matt Damon, co-founder of Water.org, addressed ministers of finance, water, and sanitation from across the world at the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Finance Ministers’ High Level Meeting at the 2017 World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings. The meeting focused on finding ways to fill the enormous financing gap via innovative financial solutions. Mr. Damon urged ministers to consider the full breadth of financing options to achieve the goal of providing safe, affordable, and sustainable water and sanitation for all.
For the past two years, the rains have been poor in Somalia. What comes next is tragically familiar. Dry wells. Dying livestock. Failed harvests. Migration. Masses of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The same is happening in Yemen, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. However, poor rains are not the only water problem that creates havoc. Floods, water-borne diseases, and transboundary water conflicts can all cause severe human suffering and disruptions to political, economic, and environmental systems.
Senior Environmental Economist,
The Nature Conservancy
Water Policy Specialist,
The Nature Conservancy
Balneário Camboriú is both a famous Brazilian beach destination and a water supply management puzzle. The resident population of the city is just 170,000, but swells to over 800,000 during the tourist season. Like many water utilities facing growing demand and the effects of climate change, the local water company, EMASA, must invest carefully to secure water for its fluctuating customer base.
Unlike many water utilities, however, EMASA is investing in the natural system where its water comes from.