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Cities, companies team up to tackle urban water crisis

New Delhi : With rising urban populations and ever scarcer water supplies, cities and companies will need to substantially increase water recycling and safe reuse by 2030 and change the way they operate to ensure water security in the future.

Thankfully, cities and companies are teaming up to invest billions of dollars in water management projects, a report by non-profit environmental research group Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and AECOM, has said, highlighted the fact that $9.5 billion worth of city water projects are now open for investment across the world.

Cities most concerned about their water supply lie in Asia and Oceania (84 per cent); with serious risks also identified in Africa (80 per cent) and Latin America (75 per cent). While 63 per cent of North American cities deem climate change a risk to water supply, fewer cities are concerned in Europe (34 per cent).

As many as 196 cities reported risks of water stress and scarcity; 132 a risk of declining water quality and 103 a risk of flooding, stated CDP’s new infographic report ‘Who’s tackling urban water challenges’ showing the first and most comprehensive dataset of global water action by cities and companies produced to date.

For example, in December 2015 Chennai faced the worst flooding from rain storms in the last 100 years. With a population of 7,600,000, many hundreds of people were killed, millions were without clean water and business operations were severely disrupted. The city is now investing in its resiliency with water conservation education, building a storm water management system and additional infrastructure.

Together with $14 billion of water impacts reported from companies, such as loss of production last year, 62 per cent of cities are now working with companies to address water and climate change issues with 80 cities seeking $9.5 billion for 89 water management projects.

Water investment opportunities are greatest in Latin America ($6.7bn), where Quito, Ecuador is looking for $800 million to manage their water supply. The city aims to build three hydropower stations and address the contamination of 246km of Quito’s rivers and streams. Development in Latin America is followed by North America ($2.7bn); Asia and Oceania ($27.4m); Europe ($22.3m) and Africa ($6.19m).

“Our report shows just how crucial water management is becoming to our cities. We are seeing critical shifts in leadership from cities and companies in response to the very real threat of flooding, for example, to local economies. Combined with innovation and financial capital, this puts the tipping point for a sustainable economy in reach, and this data shows how important investors are in making this happen", said Head of CDP’s Water Programme Morgan Gillespy.

"These funds are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of where we must go, with live infrastructure projects currently calling out for $9.5 billion. Furthermore, in conjunction with investment, we must take a holistic approach to water. Our vision is to achieve a secure and sustainable water supply by 2030 but to get here we need a sharp U-turn in how we manage our natural resources. Water must be recognised as a critical asset at city and board level, so it’s down to us all to build it into our thinking", he added.

On the question of what actions can a city or company take to increase water security in the future, the report suggest the first action to be setting up of ambitious water efficiency targets. Of the companies surveyed, 54 per cent have set targets to better manage water resources. The second action suggested is to capitalise on opportunities to reduce and recycle water and 318 companies are working on reuse and recycling projects. The third action suggested was to invest in water management projects.

“From our work with cities around the world, water has consistently come up as a key resilience challenge. Many of them, regardless of size, from Mexico City, Mexico to Berkeley, California, are addressing both long-term water supply issues as well as chronic urban flooding. In thinking about the immediate flooding and future water scarcity issues through a resilience lens, we are helping cities to address issues of socio-economic disparity and environmental justice, in addition to solving their technical challenges", said AECOM Principal and City Resilience Lead Claire Bonham-Carter.

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