By Torgny Holmgren*
Water is a finite resource. With a growing population, an expanding global middle class and a rise in energy and industrial production, the demand for water is reaching new levels. According to the OECD, global demand for freshwater will increase by 55 percent between 2000 and 2050. By 2050 it is expected that roughly 6.4 billion people will live in cities, making urban water management an essential building block for resilience and sustainable growth.
A growing number of users with competing demands further propels the issue of global water scarcity. A variable climate with unpredictable precipitation patterns intensifies this issue. It is now more important than ever to find ways to be more careful with the water we have and to better balance competing water needs between different users.
The good news is that we know we can be far more efficient in our use of water, and many actors, such as cities already are.
At SIWI, we believe that a circular economy in which water is reused and waste is managed as an economic asset are important parts of the solution to this challenge.
The opportunities for exploiting wastewater are enormous. When properly harnessed, wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other consumables.
World Water Week in Stockholm addressed the challenges presented by two ambitious targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Goal 6, target 3:
“by 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally”
Goal 12, target 5:
“by 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse”.
These are just two of the 169 SDG targets, that along with the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the annual Global Risk Report by the World Economic Forum, highlight our challenge to achieve sustainable development in a changing world.
Water is a great connector and is at the core of sustainable development. It is the ‘blue thread’ that runs through the SDGs–without reliable access to water almost none of the Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved.
In recent years, business leaders and city mayors have become more engaged in water and sustainable development, becoming important partners in achieving a water wise world.
Cities are increasingly recognised as critical to achieving the SDGs. They are the frontline for institutional, economic and social change; they are the future for humanity and the stage upon which the SDGs will unfold.
While wastewater isn’t only an urban challenge, cities can serve as a hub for wastewater innovation as they present some of the greatest wastewater challenges. Challenges from sewage management, stormwater runoff and urban flooding are further exaggerated by intensified urbanisation and climate change.
Water supply, sanitation and stormwater are integral components of the urban water system, yet they are often not planned or operated in an integrated way. Viewing them as a single system can greatly enhance the utility of water, both in the context of everyday use and under stress.
This calls for new approaches to ‘smart cities’, with greater emphasis on integrated urban water and wastewater management, with stronger links to spatial planning and inter-institutional collaboration.