The top 50 most sustainable cities for water management

23 May 2016 Consultancy.uk

The threat of a water crisis is looming for hundreds of millions of the world’s inhabitants, as climate change, water management challenges and demographic shifts are disrupting water’s ecosystem. As a result, many of the globes cities are currently scrambling to shore up resilience, improve efficiency and guarantee the quality of their water. When it comes to ramping up water sustainability, cities globally can learn from ‘leaders’ Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

The social and economic implications of water to cities is key, providing, among others, an infrastructure to support residents and businesses, as well as providing an impetus toward improving the standard of living of inhabitants. In line with the rise of megacities, and the ever growing urbanisation trend, in particular in upcoming markets, addressing the management of water in and around cities in a sustainable manner is becoming an ever more pressing matter for city policy makers. This means efficiently providing safe, reliable, and easily accessible water to residents and businesses, as well as trustworthy access to sanitation and protecting waterways from pollution. 

Three elements for a sustainable water future

Sustainable water index
To better understand how 50 of the world’s top cities are performing in terms of water sustainability, Arcadis recently partnered with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) to gauge the management of city waterscapes across a range of factors. The researchers looked at three factors – the resiliency of the water system, the efficiency of water use and the quality of water use – with each of the dimensions broken down into a range of sub-indices.

The authors found that, among the cities taken into scrutiny, Rotterdam is the most sustainable city in the ranking. The city scores number one in the resilience category, offering strong performances in almost all major sub-indices. The Dutch city has taken a pro-active approach to water stewardship, including a resilience civil servant as well as a comprehensive set of packages aimed at improving and maintaining the cities’ relationship with its local water bodies. Danish capital Copenhagen takes the number two spot, on the back of a strong performance in water efficiency sub-indices and resilience, while Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands, takes the number three spot. Berlin and Brussels complete the top five, with strong performances in resilience (2nd) and quality (4th) respectively.

The first Asia-Pacific city on the list is Sydney, with a strong performance in efficiency (4th) although its quality score (25th) is somewhat below par – while Melbourne, the number 11 on the list, has its quality placement at number 17. The first US city to make the list is Washington, which boasts good quality water (12th), while Los Angeles takes the number 2 efficiency spot and number 27 overall.

Top 50 most sustainable cities for water

Eight of the top ten spots are held by European cities, reflecting the continent’s strong geographic and demographic advantages surrounding water (temperate climate, low population densities), as well as a long history of dealing with water problems; many of these cities have mature water systems that have been built up over a long period of time, many times in response to challenges they have faced with water. Two outliers are included in the list however, with London 21st and Italian capital Rome 28th, suggesting that there is room for improvement.

Bottom 25
The remainder of the list contains two Indian cities, New Delhi and Mumbai – the cities constantly score in the bottom percentile of the three indices. African cities too are relatively lowly ranked on the index, including Nairobi, which manages a number 10 place in resilience at number 46 overall, and Johannesburg at number 45. The Latin American cities of Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and Buenos Aires hold the number 44, 35 and 34 spots respectively.

According to the researchers, Latin American cities perform poorly largely due to water quality, requiring improved wastewater treatment and sanitation. The African cities listed are held back by inefficiency and poorer water quality.

John Batten, Global Director of Water and Cities at Arcadis, says: “The World Economic Forum named water crises as one of the top three highest global risks to economies, environments and people, in terms of impact in 2016 [after climate change and the use of weapons of mass destruction]. Water demand issues and climate change risks are happening right here and right now. The cities that best understand this and act first will be the ones that not only help save the planet from an impending water crisis, but will also be the first to attract investment and improve their competitive position.”

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