Water Governance in Urban Policies and Planning
Nimesha Dissanayaka
29 July 2019


Today, the climate system across the globe has become unpredictable. This has impacted human settlements, with urban areas becoming more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The exploding urban population has created unprecedented challenges. One such challenge is urban water management; specifically, the lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and increasing extreme water-related disasters such as floods, droughts, and unpredictable rain intensities . These problems have enormous consequences on human health and well-being, safety, the environment, economic growth, and development.

As mentioned in the UN media brief on water and urbanisation, half of the world population now lives in cities; within two decades, nearly 60% of the population will be urban dwellers. Worldwide, 141 million urban dwellers do not have access to clean drinking-water. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction, the demand for water will increase by 55% by 2050, buoyed by factors such as manufacturing industries, thermal electricity generation, and domestic use. This means that managing and ensuring access to water for all is not only a matter of financing, but also a matter of governance. As such, there is a huge need for mainstreaming water governance in urban policymaking.


What is Water Governance?

Water governance refers to the political, social, economic, and administrative systems that are in place to influence water use and management. According to OECD Water Governance Programme, it involves setting up rules, practices, and processes through which the decisions for the management of water resources and services are taken and implemented, as well as holding decisionmakers accountable.  Essentially, it implies who gets what water, when, and how, who has the right to water and related services, and their benefits. It determines the equity and efficiency in the allocation and distribution of water resources and services and balances water use between socio-economic activities and ecosystems. It requires identifying good practices, developing tools and mechanisms to assist different levels of governments, and engaging stakeholders in effective, efficient, fair, and sustainable water policies. The scope of governing water also includes the formulation, establishment, and implementation of water policies, legislation, and institutions and the clarification of the roles and responsibilities of government, civil society, and the private sector in relation water resources and services. The outcomes depend on how the stakeholders act with regard to the rules and roles that have been taken or assigned to them.


Water Governance for Smart and Resilient Cities

A city which expects to become smarter and resilient should focus on policies to achieve environmental sustainability, economic efficiency, and social improvement. Urban water management, under these parameters, need to pay attention to the efficient supply of water, the reduction of losses, progressive tariffs, and efforts in education, sanitation, and integral purification of wastewater. The reuse of reclaimed water must be promoted. It is also necessary to incorporate technology for the benefit of environmental and social sustainability, while guaranteeing a transparent, all-inclusive involvement.

The following figure shows the 12 main principles in water governance in a smart city, as identified by OECD.

Source: OECD (2015), OECD Principles on Water Governance, https://www.oecd.org/cfe/regional-policy/OECD-Principles-on-Water-Governance.pdf

Managing water-related risks at an acceptable cost also is important in urban water government. There are significant possibilities for the reuse of wastewater in cities, thereby reducing pressures on pure water sources. The purification of urban wastewater and its subsequent reuse can lead to more environmentally sustainable cities. Essential components of a smart water governance system are shown in the figure below.

Source: Smart Management and Judgement, http://www.augurit.com/en/zhsw/index.htm


Way Forward

A smart and resilient city must equip itself with instruments and systems to ensure a continuous, regular, and high-quality supply of water. Since water governance depends on various internal and external factors such as political, institutional, and administrative rules and megatrends such as climate change and urban growth, cities have to plan its own governance system considering the existing challenges. To this end, an effective management system, where public and private sectors collaborate with each other, supported by suitable policy and regulatory instruments, and effective institutional arrangements, is required. Moreover, such a system of water management should be based on the principles of transparency and good governance.



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