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How can cities improve their water operations? New index tool released

Thursday, 6 January 2022

A new City Water Optimsation tool from Economist Impact can help policymakers address issues such as availability, reliability and sustainability.

Assessing water in an urban context

With almost 70 per cent of the global population expected to live in urban environments by 2050, there is an urgency to invest and optimise city water systems to cope with these challenges.

Abundant and affordable water can be made available for all citizens through a combination of careful planning, technology adoption and effective governance.

To help measure and benchmark the state of water optimisation worldwide, Economist Impact has developed the City Water Optimisation Index, introduced as part of the Reimagining Urban Water Systems report.

“Los Angeles received the highest overall score, followed closely by Melbourne.”

Sponsored by DuPont Water Solutions, the index has been designed to help policymakers address issues such as water availability, reliability and sustainability of water and sanitation services in 51 cities around the world.

A total of 47 quantitative and qualitative indicators are used to assess how urban water systems feature the necessary policies, infrastructure and systems to optimise their water supply, distribution and treatment networks.

Furthermore, the research team surveyed 5,119 city-dwellers across all index cities on the state of water and sewerage services in urban contexts.

Los Angeles received the highest overall score in the City Water Optimisation Index, followed closely by Melbourne.

Growing concerns over water security

The survey explored perceptions on urban water and wastewater systems management, including the cleanliness, quality and adequacy of service provision, awareness of risks, and other indicators of optimised water systems.

“The results from the first edition of the City Water Optimisation Index are highly encouraging…By and large, most index cities had robust water connectivity systems, delivered quality water to their populations, and applied best practices in terms of management and coordination among their water agencies and other stakeholders."

“Nearly 74 per cent of all city residents have growing concerns about the safety and security of their drinking water.”

However, nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of all city residents surveyed have growing concerns about the safety and security of their drinking water, particularly those in developing regions.

The report added that despite such positivity, the “results were mixed” in the sustainability category.

Brazil’s bottom-up approach

Although the highest overall scorers were largely high-income cities, several low income and upper-middle-income cities performed well in the individual category scores. This included Dakar and Mombasa in reliability and Marrakech in accessibility.

“São Paulo moved to diversify its natural water portfolio and treat wastewater for direct industrial use.”

Meanwhile, one example of a top-performing city not among the richest is São Paulo, Brazil.

The report referenced how such “bottom-up approaches” can successfully influence water policies. Having endured several water shortage crises in 2014-16 and 2018, water management became a major concern for civil society groups in the city.

In 2014 these groups created an Alliance for Water with non-government organisations, congressional candidates and municipal leaders. They succeeded in creating the city's Water Security Commission, which aims to coordinate city agencies responsible for the water system and implement municipal water policies.

Additionally, São Paulo moved to diversify its natural water portfolio and treat wastewater for direct industrial use as a first step towards more widespread use of treated water.

“These actions have boosted São Paulo’s score in the index rankings and serve as an example of the improvements that can be made in a relatively short time,” the report said.

Committing to optimising water

In the report conclusions, Economist Impact said: “Limited resources mean that investments in city water systems need to target the elements requiring it the most, making it even more critical to measure what cities are doing right and identifying areas for improvement.

It added: “The cities that are truly committed to achieving water optimisation for their citizens ultimately can, and will, find the way forward.”

For more information, to download the report and use the City Water Optimiser tool, click here.

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