Water is the Key to Prosperity and Livability in Cities of the Future

Urbanisation is a worldwide phenomenon that is growing at a rapid rate. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, a landmark for humanity. My own country of Australia is leading this trend. Despite having a huge landmass (about the size of the continental United States of America), we are one of the most urbanised countries in the world. Some 90 percent of Australians live in cities and urban communities, and around 40% of us live in just two Cities – Sydney and Melbourne. This means that cities today fundamentally underpin the world’s economy – making them a central focus of any policy debate.

Water in turn is a key ingredient to the prosperity and livability of our cities and urban communities. Regrettably, this truth seems to be a tightly held secret – one that is only known by the water industry. When it comes to urban planning, the water industry is a poor cousin to other sectors such as transport, communications and energy. Much more effective and efficient outcomes can be achieved for cities if they are planned with water in mind, rather than “plumbing it in” retrospectively – as is largely the case across the world.

This is why the IWA have made cities a key priority for the Brisbane World Water Congress and Exhibition in October this year. This forum provides an exciting opportunity to share knowledge and advance our understanding around integrating city and water management – for the benefit of our customers and communities.

Looking forward, we will face some major challenges in the way in which we manage water in cities over the next few decades:

  • We need to become more resilient in the face of greater climate variability. The changing climate is throwing up many challenges, from reduced water reliability, greater flooding risk and increased temperature variability;
  • As our cities grow, their liveability will be compromised without good planning and integration;
  • A large number of countries are facing a new generation of public health risks in the form of life style diseases. This is coming at a significant cost to our Our industry has made a significant contribution to public health through the management of water borne diseases and we have much to offer in managing this new threat;
  • It is unlikely to be economically viable to continue to grow our infrastructure base proportionally with the growth of our cities;
  • We are running out of a number of key natural resources.

The water industry can make a real contribution to addressing these challenges. It will be important to optimise outcomes across the whole of the urban water cycle, not just within a component part, such as the provision of water and sewerage services. As an industry we can contribute much more to the prosperity and liveability of our cities if we think holistically. We have much to offer by bringing our collective capability and innovation to the table.

We are working hard on this integrated approach in Australia. For example, considerable research effort is going into integrating water and city planning and delivery. The Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities is a leader in this regard. A strong focus of this research is practical and implementable solutions for improving our the liveability of our cities, such as reducing the heat island effect and improving technologies for treating and managing stormwater. This is critical to helping the health of our waterways and improving flood protection.

The challenges we face are remarkably similar across the world’s cities and urban communities, and there is much to gain from sharing experiences from around the world. To this end, I look forward to this year’s Congress in Brisbane.

The IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition is the global event for water professionals. It offers new insights into how pioneering science, technological innovation and leading practices shape the major transformation in water management that is underway. It draws over 5,500 of the top water, environment and related professionals from more than 100 countries from across the water sector, including thought leaders from within and beyond the water sector.

Shaun Cox

Chairman at Water Research Australia Limited