|Water for Urban Areas (UNU, 2000, 243 p.)|
Juha I. Uitto and Asit K. Biswas
The world has seen an unprecedented growth in water consumption during the twentieth century. Much of this increase can be attributed directly to population growth, which has been especially pronounced in the developing countries since the Second World War. The world population has more than doubled since the 1950s.
This is, however, only part of the story. Per capita water consumption has gone up dramatically, as well. This has been mainly due to increased demand for agricultural water, although industrialization, urbanization, and economic growth have contributed. As people get richer they increase their water consumption. This lifestyle change is now affecting large populations in the developing world. Economic growth in the South is likely to lead to massive increases in water consumption in coming years. Asit Biswas has shown in chapter 1 the impacts of population growth, urbanization, and economic development on the consumption of water on a global level. Although urban consumption still represents a fairly small percentage of the total, especially compared with agriculture, its share is going to rise in the future.
The problems of urban water concern quality as much as quantity. Urban areas produce huge amounts of sewage - from both house- holds and industries - and this causes problems for both human and ecosystem health. Water-related diseases are prevalent, especially in the poorer parts of developing country cities. Similarly, providing sufficient amounts of water to the growing urban centres is in itself a challenge. It is thus obvious that solutions need to be sought on multiple fronts involving all stakeholders.
In the past, emphasis has been placed on infrastructure development. Development of proper and sufficient infrastructure for urban water supply and sewage is, of course, necessary. However, more attention must be paid to the soft side of water management, including demand management. Improvements in policies, pricing, and operation and maintenance are equally important.
The efficiency of water-related infrastructure is often appallingly low. In chapter 4, Rajendra Sagane highlighted the problems facing four Indian mega-cities where demand for water is outstripping supply. He concluded that much of the blame can be placed on poor operation and maintenance of the systems. The emphasis has been on the construction of costly infrastructure, while operation and management of the existing systems have been neglected. There is now an urgent need to move towards more efficient management.
The example of Japan serves to demonstrate what careful management can contribute to the efficiency of urban water supply. In chapter 2, Yutaka Takahasi outlined the historical development of the water supply and sewage works in Tokyo. The capital of Japan has experienced remarkable growth during the twentieth century and is now arguably the largest urban conglomeration in the world (with some 31 million people in eight adjacent cities). Losses from the urban water supply system of Tokyo have been reduced from 80 per cent in 1945 to the current remarkably low 9.9 per cent. Infrastructure development in Japan has now reached maturity. The problems today are different. It is now important to focus on providing good-quality water at the least possible cost. Technological developments can play an important role in this, but cannot alone solve the problems.
Another Japanese case, as described by Masahisa Nakamura (chap. 3), highlights the need to balance the requirements of urban areas for water with the ecosystem demands in the region surrounding the cities. Lake Biwa is the largest lake in Japan and important for the water supply for the second-largest urban conglomeration in the country - the Kansai area, which consists of the cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Kobe. The case study of the Lake Biwa-Yodo River system shows how the individual municipal water systems have evolved separately on the basis of the agendas of the various municipalities in the basin. A holistic approach to integrated watershed management has been lacking. Consequently, policy has been fragmented and implementation has been incremental, causing problems with the economics of water use.
Similarly, environmental considerations and restoration are becoming increasingly important with regard to water resources management and quality. In Japan, the development of water resources has been seen in the context of overall economic development, with an emphasis on river development, dam construction, diversion channels, etc. In the future, however, it will be important to incorporate environmental considerations and conservation into water resources development plans.
The Lake Biwa Comprehensive Development Project (LBCDP) took 25 years to complete. This was achieved during a time of very rapid economic growth in Japan when environmental concerns were not considered as front-running issues. Similar projects today and in less wealthy countries would take much longer to realize.
A case in point may be Mexico City, a sprawling metropolitan area of 25 million people, as described by Cecilia Tortajada-Quiroz in chapter 5. Population growth remains high and water demand is increasing rapidly. To cater for the growing demand, Mexico has embarked on projects that involve long-distance water transfers from basins located far from the city. As a consequence, costs are escalating rapidly. Similarly, supplying water to the urban giant is taking a toll on the environment in the surrounding areas. The situation will not be sustainable in the longer term.
The conclusions emerging from this volume are clear: providing water and sanitation for urban areas in the twenty-first century will pose a major challenge for humankind in the years to come. This challenge will require new solutions and policies to be developed. In particular, given the escalating conflicts in water resources development and increasing water demand in the developing countries, wastewater reclamation and reuse will in the future need to be seen as increasingly important options in the sustainable development of urban water resources. According to Takashi Asano (chap. 6), demand for water in the city is an issue of the reliability as well as the dependability of water supply. Reused wastewater can be used for purposes where quality requirements are not that high: flushing toilets, washing cars, gardening, etc.
Pollution control is also essential and should be strictly enforced. Industries that are polluting should be made responsible for paying for the costs of the clean-up.
Another dimension to the issue is the vulnerability of water supply systems to natural and manmade disasters. Many of the world's urban centres are in locations susceptible to hazards. It is, for example, estimated that by the year 2000 three-quarters of the population of the United States will live within 15 km of either coast. The same trend is evident everywhere in the world. Coasts in general are exposed to climatic hazards, such as typhoons and hurricanes, that can disrupt water supply and sewerage systems. Incidents of flooding can have devastating effects on urban areas. Furthermore, events such as earthquakes can lead to the loss of water service, which is one of the essential lifelines of the city. The disaster vulnerability of water systems in urban areas is tragically evident from Charles Scawthorn's chapter in this book (chap. 8).
An important consideration in making urban water supplies more sustainable is the financial mechanism governing water supply and use. Water is still seen as a free commodity, and water prices to consumers seldom - if ever - reflect the true cost of water. This leads to waste and no incentive to conserve water. Authorities - whether national, city, or local - should adjust the price of water to reflect the true cost of bringing it to the consumer. All phases of the water supply must be taken into account, including the costs of operation and maintenance of the system. Instead of taxing consumers directly, indirect taxation could be adopted. However, in some cases subsidies still need to be used.
One way to improve efficiency is privatization of waterworks in cities. The utilization of private sector services is certainly very important. In chapter 7, Walter Stottmann has provided a review of the lessons to be learned from the operations of the World Bank, a leading proponent and financier of private sector involvement in the water sector. His examples clearly demonstrate the benefits from subjecting the construction, operation, and management of water supply and sewerage services to competition by private suppliers. However, it is clear that privatization should not be seen as a panacea. Private sector involvement may be essential for improving the efficiency of waterworks, but in many cases the private sector does not have the capacity to handle the services on its own. Therefore, private-public partnerships are needed.
Developing countries, in particular, have limited financial resources. External assistance in the form of aid or loans is vital for developing countries because water supply schemes for mega-cities are very costly. There is, however, a need to reassess the policies of international bilateral and multilateral development agencies. For example, the World Bank today prefers rehabilitating existing waterworks rather than building new ones, or water demand management rather than financing another plant. The problem is that this approach often goes against national policies and against the interests of those in power. Politicians like to build new plants for prestige reasons; rehabilitation and efficiency improvements are seen as much less attractive.
The industrialized countries need to rethink the focus and priorities for their official development assistance programmes in the sector. Thus far the emphasis has been on the construction of new infrastructure projects. What is needed now is a long-term vision for broad-based cooperation in the water sector that places more emphasis on the "software" aspects, such as capacity building and institutional strengthening. This cooperation needs to include both resource flows from the North to the South and technology and knowledge transfers.
It will also be important to change national policy environments to facilitate efficient water management in a holistic manner. Public awareness needs to be raised to support these processes. Educational strategies, including non-formal educational programmes on environmental and social issues, are needed. Educating the next generation to become responsible water users is an important task for the future.
The world faces an urgent water crisis of dimensions that no earlier generation has had to face. These problems must be solved lest there be a major human tragedy, especially in the developing countries. However, the problems can be solved with correctly focused investment, technology, and management. What is needed to achieve this is political will and active collaboration between North and South, and East and West. If countries can initiate urgent action, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future.