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Urban water governance needs urgent action, investment

London : With urban areas expected to host about 60 per cent of the world's population by 2050, water security in cities is seen increasingly threatened. Management of the resources, therefore, will not just be an issue for cities in developing countries, even those in developed countries cannot afford to take their current levels of water security and service delivery for granted, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned.

By 2050, the current water demand is seen increasing by 55 per cent globally, with as many as 4 billion people expected to live in water-stressed areas.

Water-related risks are likely to have a strong impact on citizens’ well-being and sustainable growth in years to come. Local governments and policymakers should trigger joint action to be prepared for future climate, urban and demographic trends and the pressures they exert on water resources, said the OECD in a recent report - 'Water Governance in Cities'.

“Water management is not just a pressing issue for cities in developing countries: while cities in the OECD area are able to provide high quality water services, they cannot rely on current infrastructure to manage too much, too little and too polluted water now and in the future,” the report said, calling for action on three fronts: infrastructure, institutions and information.

The report was based on a survey of 48 cities in both OECD countries and emerging economies. While Korea, China, Japan and Singapore were part of the survey, India was not.

The cities were clustered based on characteristics such as size, spatial patterns, demographics, and metropolitan governance arrangements, in order to look at the specific factors shaping urban water management and governance challenges.

The report highlighted progress in urban water management over the past few decades among OECD members. In the cities surveyed, the average share of wastewater treated rose from 92 per cent in 1990 to 90 per cent in 2012, and drinking water access increased from 94 to 98 per cent during that period.

“Too much, too little or too polluted: more and more, this characterizes the key water challenges facing cities,” the report said.

“Many cities are suffering floods and droughts at the same time, which requires robust governance to move from crisis to risk management and resilience.”

According to the OECD, while global water demand grows between now and 2050, “fierce competition across different categories of water users -- particularly agriculture, energy and urban dwellers -- would become unavoidable.

“It also means that if nothing changes, water security will be increasingly in jeopardy. Good governance is essential to build consensus on current and pressing threats, to ensure institutions and stakeholders are equipped to handle them, and to adjust to changing circumstances where and when need be.”

Continued investment in wastewater treatment is necessary to address water quality problems, OECD noted.

A massive investment backlog, which has hindered upgrading, renovation and maintenance of water infrastructure threatens the quality of urban water services in OECD countries, “threatens universal coverage of drinking water and sanitation and diminishes the capacity to protect citizens against water-related disasters.”

The report said governance is key to catalyzing finance for infrastructure renovation. It also concluded that “multi-level approaches to water governance are necessary, as water management takes place at several scales.”

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