A holistic water management system in urban areas for a sustainable future

An integrated approach can bring healthy coordination between all stakeholders

By Krishna C Rao
Published: Thursday 29 September 2022
Water management needs to undergo a revolution to ensure most urban areas can be self-sufficient in the future. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

With the rapid growth of cities, water demand has exponentially increased. Even as aspirations cause people to migrate to urban areas, water depletion and scarcity remains a huge challenge staring at people’s faces in the near future.

Water demand is going to increase even more, with India’s population in urban areas expected to double by 2050. Around 35 per cent of India’s population lived in urban areas as of 2020. 

In urban areas, only 45 per cent of the demand is met using groundwater resources. Apart from this, climate change, pollution and contamination have also added to the burden on water resources. 

As water demand exceeds supply in most cities, water management needs to undergo a revolution to ensure most urban areas can be self-sufficient in the future. 

Read more: How climate vulnerability in South Bihar takes a toll on its groundwater

In India, there are different water management systems based on utilities like sanitation, urban water, stormwater and wastewater that deal with water-related issues in different localities. Since areas and localities define distribution and water allocation, it is often a challenge to find a unified solution. 

With climate change and population growth leading to increased water use, new solutions have to be conceived for better urban water management. More people in different local contexts need to be made aware of the challenges. 

Similarly, there are changes required in institutions like local departments that play a crucial role. It is essential that holistic and systemic solutions are implemented to solve water issues.

Integrated urban water management system for reliable supply

Integrated urban water management system (IUWM) is a process, which ensures water supply, used water management, sanitation and stormwater management can be planned in line with economic development and land use. 

This holistic process makes coordination among water departments easier at the local level. It also helps cities adapt to climate changes and manage water supply more efficiently. 

Here are a few approaches to successful urban water management: 

  • Collaborative action
  • Shift in perception of water 
  • Understanding water as a resource
  • Customised solutions for different cities

Collaborative action is one of the leading principles of IUWM. It focuses on a collaborative approach involving all stakeholders. While effective legislation will help guide local authorities, engaging local communities will lead to faster solutions in water management. 

When there is clear coordination between all the stakeholders, it is easier to define priorities, take action, implement changes and take accountability.

 The coordinating structure that will ensure communication between departments, levels of government, local communities and stakeholders

The shift in perception must view water in connection with other urban sectors. It is essential to understand how water is inseparable in its connection to economic development, city infrastructure and land use.

Earlier, many solutions focused solely on seeing water as an independent sector, but now the perception has shifted and it is necessary to view the interdependence with other sectors.

Once the water situation is gauged, it will be easier for urban local bodies to link a city’s development plans with the water management process.

To understand water as a resource, we need to realise water is used for different purposes like domestic use, industrial use, freshwater, agricultural use and wastewater.

This means it cannot be just seen as an end product for consumers but rather as a resource for various end goals. Once all sources are clearly defined, it will be easier to treat different kinds of water based on agricultural, industrial and environmental purposes.

IUWM ensures water management can be done based on the quality and quantity of water targeted toward specific uses.

Different cities also need customised solutions. Since IUWM focuses on specific contexts and local requirements, it prioritises a rights-based solution approach over one-size-fits-all approach.

Conventional methods did not focus on stakeholder engagement, however, IUWM’s integrated system brings in healthy coordination between all stakeholders. This helps to build climate resilience among communities and also produces decisions that are more holistic, catering to different industries and communities.

Water for all

One of the reasons we are talking about IUWM is that it prioritises access to water for the most vulnerable communities. This means incorporating a few changes in the entire system.

Integrated policies can help secure sustainable development and also ensure there is innovation, efficiency and sustainability at every level. 

Read more: Bengaluru, Lucknow flooding: What do we mean by water-sensitive cities?

Institutional practices in large cities will have to be transformed, but a different approach to stakeholder resource management might yield a positive result. 

IUWM has proven to be a successful practice, but budget constraints, inadequate guidance from authorities and lack of awareness have limited the implementation of this solution. However, recent policies by the central government can help pave the way for state-wise planned implementation of IUWM. 

The Centre has started initiatives by implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) for inclusive sanitation solutions and Jal Jeevan Mission for ensuring piped water supply. 

The government has also allowed reuse of water based on circular economy principles. No sustainable development goals (SDGs) can be accomplished without running water, therefore, it is imperative that water is managed efficiently. 

This will help India achieve SDGs in health, sanitation, education, livelihood and education. Adopting IUWM will also help us tackle water scarcity, address public health risks and make cities climate resilient. It is the one-stop solution to ensure good health and clean water for all. 

Krishna C Rao is advisor, program and management, Water Sanitation and Hygiene Institute

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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