Sustainable Urban Water Cycles

The Sustainable Urban Water Cycle approach is a holistic, integrated water and waste management approach implemented city-wide.

Urbanisation is one of the biggest global trends next to climate change and creates enormous pressure on water and waste services. The projection is that by 2050 more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.

Drivers for urbanisation are the desire for a higher quality of living and better services. However, insecurity and conflict additionally drive people into urban centres. Much of urbanisation is de facto unplanned. Currently, nearly one in three people in urban areas live in ’slum’ households or informal settlements. Urban authorities and utilities are already overwhelmed by the pace of urbanisation.

Urbanisation alters the natural water cycle towards a so-called ‘urban water cycle’. This essentially means less infiltration, less evapotranspiration, and more run-off. As a result, the risks of flooding during rains and droughts during dry seasons are heightened. Climate change, which in many places, manifests itself in higher rainfall intensities and more unpredictability further exacerbates the urban water cycle. Cities are likely to experience higher temperatures compared to rural areas, due to the materials used in the built environment (cement, asphalt, bricks, etc.). Finally, urbanisation puts pressure on the services and living environment in cities, as well as on natural resources, in particular water.

Our Sustainable Urban Water Cycle Approach (SUWC) is a holistic, integrated water and waste management approach which works city-wide. We contribute to progressing water supply, sanitation, waste, flood and drought management, reaching the entire city population, geographically and socially. The Sustainable Urban Water Cycle approach aims to close the loop in water and waste management through the promotion of safe and financially sound re-use and re-cycling practices, as well as responsible water and waste management. In doing so, our SUWC approach contributes to the realisation of the human rights of water and sanitation as well as a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

Components of our SUWC approach include governance and regulation, services, finance and investment, effective behavioural change interventions, treatment and circularity, as well as city-wide flood and drought management.

Whereas SUWC itself focuses on the water cycle of a city and the sustainability of specific water sources, where relevant, it can be integrated with the broader water resource management approach – Equitable Water Resource Management (EWRM). Combined with EWRM, the approach that will be used to understand and improve a city’s water cycle will be widened to include an exploration of water resource management linkages with other uses.