Developing pathways to water-wise cities

Two years ago, humanity passed a critical threshold. For the first time in human history more people lived in cities and urban areas than in rural areas. That trend is accelerating, and by 2050 roughly 6.4 billion people will live in cities. The future of humanity is urban, but rapid and unplanned urban expansion, coupled with climate change, will have far-reaching and profound impacts on the future health and wellbeing of all of us, on the environment and the economy.

One of the most important issues facing us in this changing world, is how we manage water wisely to deliver sustainable, resilient and liveable cities for their growing populations? Good urban governance that enables institutions and citizens to fully engage in decision-making is an important part of the solutions that will enable cities to thrive. Water-wise cities are great places to live, where innovation, social cohesion, creativity and culture flourish. All stakeholders need to act to create sustainable water in cities.

This year, two intergovernmental meetings, Habitat III and COP22, provide an opportunity to put sustainable urban water management at the centre of the New Urban Agenda and climate negotiations that will result from these meetings. This is vital so as not to undermine the centrality of water to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Good governance enables sustainable urban water management

Cities are engines of the economy, provide vital services to society, and consume significant resources from the environment. The complexities of urban governance – spatial, institutional and political – make cities vulnerable to the impacts of change. Understanding the relative strengths and weaknesses in urban governance helps deliver more informed decision-making.

The OECD Water Governance in Cities report provides an analysis of key factors affecting urban water governance in 48 cities. It highlights trends in roles and responsibilities across government, and assesses governance gaps in urban water management. Building on the OECD Principles on Water Governance, the report makes clear that policy responses need to be tailored to a given city’s needs, while aligning with national goals and priorities. It provides a framework for mitigating territorial and institutional fragmentation, while raising the profile of water in the broader sustainable development agenda.

It focuses on three particular areas of the water policy cycle: Policy, People and Places. This stresses the need for the coordination of water policies with other sectors; strong awareness raising through stakeholder engagement for decision making, and; cooperation between cities and those with which they share their water resources.

A water-wise city vision accelerates action

The IWA Principles for Water-Wise Cities provide an all-encompassing vision for sustainable urban water management that unites people and institutions, traverses boundaries and scales, and enables a city to take action. The 17 Principles underlie resilient planning and design in cities by encouraging collaborative action, so that local governments, urban professionals, and individuals actively engage in addressing and finding solutions for managing all waters of the city.

Joint Actions for Sustainable Urban Water Management

The OECD Principles on Water Governance and IWA Principles for Water Wise Cities advocate a consistent approach to sustainable urban water management. This aims to galvanise action so that:

  • City leaders engage in policy discourse and partnership development with leaders in the environmental, agricultural, energy and waste sectors.
  • State and city level policy makers and city service providers embrace inclusive decision making that engages and empowers urban citizens to establish water wise communities.
  • City leaders play an active role in basin-wide planning and decision-making processes, ensuring resources are managed wisely.

This will only be achievable if significant levels of investment are made available to deliver sustainable urban water management. Each year, low-carbon and climate resilient infrastructure needs billions of dollars of investment around the world. Cities and their institutions require targeted support to develop a pipeline of bankable projects that can tap into climate and green finances. Only then will the new urban agenda be achievable.



OECD, IWA and the Dutch Government at Habitat III
18 October 2016, 08:00 – 08:45

“Urban Future” Room venue of the Habitat III Conference
Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana “Benjamin Carrion”

OECD, IWA, and the Ministry of Environment of the Netherlands are hosting a side event at the Quito Habitat III Conference that will conclude with a pledge to collaborate across boundaries, scales and disciplines to be signed by partner organisations representing several urban sectors. This will contribute to increasing the awareness of urban professionals on the role they can play towards sustainable urban water.


OECD, ISWA and IWA at COP-22
Thursday, 17 Nov 2016 11:30 – 13:00
Mediterranean Room

Financing Climate-Resilient and Low Carbon Urban Water & Waste Management in Emerging Cities

OECD, the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) and IWA are hosting a side event at the Marrakech COP22 that will address current bottlenecks and opportunities for cities to deliver climate-resilient, low-carbon water and waste services in emerging economies. Both the water and waste sector provide attractive opportunities for cities to take action in reducing Green House Gas emissions and meeting sustainable development goals. The side event will explore ways to make the most of these opportunities, and of the synergies of the two sectors.



Documents and reports attached to this page