"Meeting urban water challenges is matter of political will and priorities, not about technical solutions"

A brief report by Parineeta Dandekar on the World Water Week 2011 in Stockholm.

Guest post by: Parineeta Dandekar

This year's World Water Week in Stockholm explored water and sanitation challenges faced by urban areas as well as the water, sanitation and equity challenges posed by urban areas. We take a look at some of the presentations and discussions that took place, especially with reference to India and South Asia.

"It would be wise to look at the world from a water lens than a CO2 lens"- Prof. Malin Falkenmark (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)
"It would be wise to look at the world from a water lens than a CO2 lens"- Prof. Malin Falkenmark (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)

World Water Week has been organised since 1991 in Stockholm by the Swedish International Water Institute, with the help and support of a number of agencies and organisations. Sweden has shown the way to the world when it comes to protecting its numerous water courses from pollution and degradation and Swedes take pride in the fact that all water bodies in the country have bathing quality water. Sweden has also protected some of its rivers from further deterioration from dams. (However, some Swedish water experts think that this protection is too little, too late.)

Theme of this year's event

The theme of this year’s World Water Week (WWW) was 'Water in an Urbanising World'. This year’s WWW had 2500 registered participants, more than 50 seminars and 40 side events.

By 2050, the urban population is estimated to be of the same size as the total global population today. Around 95 per cent of the global population increase will be in urban areas. Most of the growth is expected in secondary towns. Huge urban conglomerates will also expand. The previous urban minority is turning into a majority.

This pattern has been leading to a number of unique natural resource management challenges. Equitable management of natural resources, especially water is a challenge for ‘urbanising’ India too. 377 million or 37.16% Indians now live in her cities (Census of India 2011) with more than 23 cities exceeding 1 million population. 26.31% of urban population lives in slums (2001 Census), with minimal water and sanitation coverage.

Such urban growth has concentrated water demands, put immense pressure on water infrastructure, led to severe pollution, inequity and conflicts. Urban areas are sourcing more water from farther away through large dams based in rural and ecologically sensitive areas. Indeed, there is an urgent need to look at the very unique challenges India and most of the developing world faces. 

Presentations during the WWW highlighted the challenges of managing a scarce resource (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)
Presentations during the WWW highlighted the challenges of managing a scarce resource (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)
The World Water Week was a good platform to understand the issues which other developing (as well as developed countries) are facing and the solutions that they are seeking. In the opening plenary, Anders Berntell, Executive Director of SIWI set the tone for this year’s WWW by stating -
"In the ancient civilisation along the Indus river around 3500 years ago, they had very well planned cities, stone covered streets with storm water collection, public baths with central heating, but also bathrooms and a toilet in every house, drinking water supplied and waste collected from every household.
This is a standard of living that stands in stark contrast to the living conditions for the more than 800 million slum-dwellers in peri-urban areas all over our world today, 3500 years later. This also a very clear indication that it is a matter of political will and priorities, not about the technical solutions. They have existed for at least 3500 years."
Stockhom Water Prize Laureate
Stephen Carpenter from Centre for Limnology, University of Wisconsin, talked about his groundbreaking studies of eutrophication, its impacts and its relation with the trophic chain in his Stockholm Water Prize Laureate Lecture. Interestingly, he talked about application of phosphorous as one of the main driver for eutrophication (though urban and agricultural runoff and untreated human waste). In the presentation, entire India, parts of Europe, China and North America showed over application of phosphorous.

Workshops and presentations

All the workshops, exhibitions and side events focused on various facets of the urban water supply and sanitation. A few presentations raised some fundamental questions about the capacities of finite natural resources to support infinite and explosive urban growth. Some called for optimizing urban growth by decentralization and focusing on sustainable development of rural areas, in order to address urban migration.

One of the most striking presentations in this regard was from Dr. Blanca Jimenez Cisneros, UNAM in her presentation: "Water for the increasingly complex demands of cities - From Homo sapiens to Homo urbanus sapiens", she urged decision makers and planners to think about optimum size of cities. According to Dr. Cisneros, ‘Cities can reach a point where they no longer efficient and become less competitive because of negative externalities’.

Reinterpreting traditional symbolism of the river Yamuna amongst "Shehri Dhobis in Delhi' by Vivek Chauhan (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)

'Reinterpreting traditional symbolism of River Yamuna among 'Shehri' Dhobis in Delhi' by Vivek Chauhan (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)

Indian representation

Indian representation at the WWW was good, as always. Some of the case studies presented by Indian participants include:

Poster sessions

Indian representation in the posters session was also noteworthy.

  • Suresh Sodal, Secretary MWRRA, MWRRA and its nuances
  • Sacchidananda Mukherjee, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), New Delhi, Increasing role of large reservoirs in sustaining urban water supplies in India
  • Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP and India Water Portal, Massive displacement and degraded ecosystems: Long shadows of India’s rapid urban growth
  • Verma Monish, InCircle Research, City and the countryside: The dynamics of resource flows - Case examples from Maharashtra, India
  • Shanmugam Packialakshmi, Center for Water Resources, Anna University Chennai, Is peri-urban to urban groundwater market sustainable? - A case study in Chennai, India
  • Shailendra Nath Dwivedi, Central Ground Water Board, MoWR, Sustaining aquifer-based water supply in Patna urban area - A fast growing million plus city in eastern India
  • Dr. Satya Venkat Prasad Mulakalapalli, GITAM University, Ecological cost benefit analysis of urban water projects - Methodological issues & challenges
  • Suruchi Bhadwal, TERI, Adapting to climate induced changes in hydro-power generation and city water and energy supplies: A Delhi case study

Poster abstracts can be seen here.

Best poster prize

And, the best part, a fresh engineering graduate, Ms. Aishwarya Nandhini Elangovan from the Centre for Water Resources, Anna University received the best poster prize for her poster on ‘Rapid urbanization and associated sociological impact due to flooding in an urban regime’.

Aishwarya Elangovan, Anna University, with her prize-winning poster (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)

Aishwarya Elangovan, Anna University, with her prize-winning poster (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)

Closing plenary

The closing plenary summed up each session and workshop conclusions and shared the Stockholm Statement to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20 Summit) for endorsements.

Closing plenary at the WWW (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)

Closing plenary at the WWW (Photo: Parineeta Dandekar)

All in all, this year’s World Water Week too proved to be an exciting and active forum for a number of individuals, organizations and institutions working on various facets of water management to share and discuss their work, learn lessons from their colleagues across the world as well as make some lasting friendships and collaborations.




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