As population and economic growth bump up against finite—and increasingly degraded—water resources, competition between agricultural, industrial, and municipal water uses increases, putting stress on existing water sources. This stress is felt most acutely in urban areas, particularly among the urban poor.

Moreover, urban water management systems are inefficient, leading to an uneven quantity and availability of water and related services. In addition, urban water management must consider the effects of climate change, including rising temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and climate variability, on water resource availability.

Addressing these challenges requires building resilience not only in cities’ physical infrastructures but also in their social architecture, governance structures, financial systems, and ecosystems. A resilient city can adapt to changing conditions and withstand shocks while still providing essential services.

The Water Global Practice of the World Bank is contributing to the effort to build resilient cities through the following approaches:
  • Promoting the integration of a wider resource perspective.

This includes: identifying solutions that account for resource constraints and extreme weather events; including in analyses a basin-wide understanding of water resource availability and competing uses; and helping clients to navigate climate and nonclimatic risks and uncertainties, incorporate robustness in system design and operations, and strengthen utilities.

In Bogota, Colombia, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Vítoria, Brazil, the Bank is supporting government efforts toward comprehensive upstream watershed management coupled with urban water management and flood control.

  • Promoting the principles of integrated urban water management (IUWM).

IUWM integrates planning for the water sector with other urban sectors to improve system-wide performance, and promotes activities that close the water cycle and improve infrastructure design and operation by incorporating hard and green solutions.

In Teresina, Brazil, the World Bank is providing financing to integrate drainage infrastructure with water supply and sanitation, create green areas to mitigate the effects of urban flooding, and regenerate urban areas to promote economic development and leisure opportunities. In Uruguay, the Bank is supporting development of a roadmap for an IUWM national strategy for sustainable urban development and for the strengthening of local capacity.

  • Promoting mainstream water in broader city resilience exercises.

The Water Global Practice collaborates with broader global initiatives on building resilient cities, such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program and the World Bank’s City Strength Program to ensure that resilience is built into water systems.

  • Promoting decentralized cities

In the context of today’s urbanization process and growing economic importance of urban systems, the governance framework of cities will determine the impact cities will have on the welfare of nations.  At the heart of the governance story is the extent to which cities have devolved political, fiscal and regulatory powers.  South Asia’s mega cities, such as Dhaka, Mumbai, and Karachi, are relatively centralized with limited fiscal and policy powers. In contrast, cities in Southern Africa and in Latin America have greater decentralized powers.  Importantly, the level of decentralization is a critical determinant of how accountable city policy makers are to urban citizens.  Policies to build resilient cities will therefore be sharply influenced by the governance structure of cities and their level of decentralization in an intergovernmental system. But, building resilience is equally a national responsibility and, therefore, the fiscal and policy relationship between upper tier governments and city governments become equally important in the governance of cities and supporting programs that strengthen resilience.

Building resilient cities requires various sectors to work together to ensure integrated city-wide planning, including effective water resources management. It also requires a careful understanding of the governance system of cities and their place in the intergovernmental system.  The World Bank will continue to work across sectors and with diverse institutions and stakeholders to help cities become resilient for the challenges ahead while ensuring decreased vulnerability of the poor and strengthened urban governance and accountability.

This post first appeared on The World Bank Water Blog.

Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Diego Rodriguez is currently a Senior Economist at the Water Global Practice of The World Bank Group. Martin Gambrill is a Civil Engineer specializing in project management and institutional and technical aspects of multi-faceted development programs with a view to sustainable interventions, especially for urban and rural water supply and sanitation, integrated urban water management, water pollution control, urban upgrading, and urban and municipal development.

Image: An earthquake survivor drinks water from a well in a provisional camp at downtown. REUTERS/ Eduardo Munoz