Water management for sustainable urban development

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The provision of water, sanitation, and drinking water services is an essential element of sustainable development, which needs the political and financial attention of national and local governments.

Water is the fountain of life, of health, and of the means of subsistence and production, worldwide. The provision of water, sanitation, and drinking water services is an essential element of sustainable development, which needs the political and financial attention of national and local governments. The issues of water and sanitation were also discussed at the 5th Brazil-Germany Dialogue on Science, Research, and Innovation: “The City of Tomorrow – Tackling Urban Challenges and Opportunities”.

The universal and equitable access to safe drinking water and to basic sanitation is provided for in Objective 6 of the 17 Objectives of Sustainable Development, which were kicked off at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21), of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in December 2015, in Paris. Also known as the Paris Agreement, Agenda 2030 was approved by 195 countries and is a landmark in the battle against climate change and the dedication to sustainable development.

The planet currently has enough water to achieve this objective, but, the lack of funding, governance, management, and infrastructure blocks access to meeting these basic needs for billions of people, worldwide. Furthermore, the pressures and implications associated with accelerated urbanization rates and with unstable weather conditions, due to global climate change, the objective of universal water and basic sanitation more urgent than ever, especially in for the world’s large metropolitan areas.

Angelika Fink, Manager of Germany’s Hessenwasser GmbH laboratory, who was invited to speak at the 5th Dialogue, pointed out the central role played by water and sanitation services in sustainable urban development, stressing that in the large metropolitan areas the provision of these services must be fully functional and, to that end, it is necessary to carry out a broadly comprehensive approach that gives priority to the development of integrated systems for water management that are adapted to local conditions. “This demands being efficient, covering costs, and giving priority to transparency, while also meeting the technical standards and legal requirements that ensure high quality and safety,” she added.

Broadly comprehensive approaches and integrated systems are increasingly gaining importance, giving priority to energy efficiency and to protecting water resources and ecosystems. Infrastructure and technological innovation are crucial to sustainable development in the water and sanitation sector. Invited speaker and Engineering Professor Marcelo Zaiat, of the University of São Paulo (USP), presented the biorefinery concept and its application at biological treatment plants for run-off water, with the generation of bioenergy and added-value products. Technological innovation has been, and will continue to be, fundamental to improving the water and sanitation sector.

Over the past 30 years, enormous progress has been made in the sector. Since 1990, the number of people, worldwide, who have access to safe drinking water grew by over 2 billion. Since 2010, the number is more than 6 billion people, worldwide. Similarly, access to sanitation increased considerably in developing countries from 36% of the population in 1990 to 56% in 2010, according to data of UN Habitat.

However, despite the important advances achieved, access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation is a persistent problem. Water scarcity affects over 40% of the world’s population and this figure tends to increase. Furthermore, UN Habitat reports that 2.4 billion people have no access to basic sanitation services, such as restrooms and latrines, and more than 80% of the residual water from human activity is dumped in rivers and oceans without being treated.

The large cities of emerging and developing economies will face big challenges regarding the management and distribution of resources, which are already insufficient and poorly managed for growing populations. In order to achieve the objective of the universalization of safe drinking water and basic sanitation, it is essential that new approaches, solutions and innovations be implemented.

In recognition of the enormous challenges to be faced, it will be necessary to establish resilient and integrated water systems to provide sustainable solutions focused on direct local use and management, while adding the opportunities presented by technological innovation, by water recycling, by the treatment of residual water, and by the utilization of complementary water-renewable energy initiatives in metropolitan areas.