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Future Outlook of Urban Water Environment in Asian Cities. A Water and Urban Initiative Report.

Binaya Kumar

Worldwide, scarce freshwater resources are increasingly being used to satisfy the demands of a rapidly increasing population and a growing global economy. One-third of the world’s river basins
have reached their capacity for exploitation, and half of the global population is directly affected by water scarcity. Furthermore, the increasing rate of uncontrolled and unplanned urbanization in
developing countries in Asia, Africa, and South America is likely one of the most important factors in the decline of the quality of urban water bodies and the increasing health and other associated
risks for urban residents. Many of the largest river systems in the world are in Asia, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Mekong, but according to the water availability per capita, Asia is behind Europe and North and South America (UN Water, 2008). Currently, South and Southeast Asia are affected by clean water scarcity because most domestic wastewater (speculated to be more than 80% by the World Water Assessment Programme, UNESCO, in the “2017 UN World Water Development Report, Wastewater: The Untapped Resource”) is directly discharged untreated into oceans, lakes, rivers,
and streams. Recent rapid industrial expansion and economic development has affected local water bodies and resulted in unfavorable hydrological, ecological, and environmental changes in many
river systems. One of the reasons for such situations is that rapid industrialization and urbanization have not been followed by the development of solid waste and wastewater treatment facilities and
other infrastructure. In addition to the contamination of water bodies through toxic industrial chemicals, the lack of household sewerage systems has also contributed to the low water quality in
many parts of Asia. To enhance the capacity of local governments and to increase the understanding of the latest urban water management techniques, United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability initiated a 4-year project entitled the “Water and Urban Initiative (WUI)” ( that aims to contribute to sustainable urban development by creating scientific tools to forecast the future state of urban water environments. The project also seeks to contribute to capacity development aimed at improving urban water environments in developing countries in Asia by focusing on population growth, urbanization, and low-carbon measures. The research findings generated through the interdisciplinary approach of WUI will fill an important gap in the understanding of urban water environments globally and contribute to improved policymaking in this key area. The purpose of this report is to highlight several cities in Asia where WUI has applied the integrated analysis framework to address and promote sustainable urban water management. Eight cities were chosen from a long list of developing urban areas in Asia to provide a range of geographical, cultural, economic, and hydrological contexts. The main dimensions of the interdisciplinary approach for addressing issues confronting Asian cities and, consequently, those of the initiated research program can be outlined as follows:
Flood risk prevention, management and assessment; Water quality assessment; Water-related health risk assessment; and Economic evaluation of water quality improvement. Systems analysis is the core of the research under the project with the aim of integrating outcomes from different components and analyzing the results with respect to a comprehensive set of goals and objectives, and the work included studies of technical models and future scenarios affecting water infrastructure in a city. Our case studies highlighted a number of results, lessons, and practical recommendations as important in successfully implementing future sustainable water management strategies and improving decision-making processes in water-related sectors in those countries.

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