Cape Town; Cape Town;

A global blueprint for water resilience

The futures of all of our cities and communities rely on water – but much of the world is experiencing a combination of too much, too little and polluted water, affecting health and wellbeing, devastating economies and threatening lives and livelihoods.  

Climate change, population growth and urbanisation continue to put increasing pressure on water systems. These issues must be addressed everywhere, with some countries and regions in more immediate need than others. 

Arup, together with The Resilience Shift (TRS), the Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities) and the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) developed the City Water Resilience Approach (CWRA). It provides an open-source methodology that helps cities understand the water-related risks they face and improve the way they plan, manage and maintain their water system.  

A world-first, its development was supported by the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Massachusetts, the OECD, the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation and the World Resources Institute (WRI).  

The city water resilience approach

The CWRA follows a structured methodology to help a city understand its urban water shocks and stresses. It then supports the development of interventions to build its resilience, to the benefit of all collectively in the long term. Critically, it helps to build true consensus by allowing all stakeholders in a city and wider region to share their needs, understand trade-offs and create a shared resilience vision towards a circular water economy that helps them to prosper.  

The approach was successfully piloted in cities across the globe, with an initial stage engaging over 700 stakeholders from eight partner cities of Cape Town, Mexico City, Greater Miami and the Beaches, Amman, Thessaloniki, Manchester, Kingston upon Hull (Hull) and Rotterdam.
Cape Town and Greater Miami and the Beaches were the first cities in the world to be selected to deploy the CWRA framework. with Hull in the United Kingdom now progressing to city masterplanning stage, engaging a variety of stakeholders including Yorkshire Water and the local authorities. 


Taking the CWRA to Africa

Over the next decade, Africa is expected to see a rapid rise in urbanisation and move from a largely agriculture-dominated society to a much more diversified economy, so much so that it is predicted that 13 out of the 20 largest megacities will be in Africa by the end of the century.

The CWRA was selected by the Global Commission on Adaptation to support its 10-year global programme, ‘1000 Cities Adapt Now’, that aims to accelerate and adapt the CWRA in 1000 cities by 2030.  The aim was to ensure the established tools and methodologies could be adapted and implemented across the world.  Work was particularly focused on ensuring effective resilience-building in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), where there is a scarcity of data, limited institutional capacity, and challenging contexts such in countries which have recently experienced conflict. 

Alongside our partners, our team at Arup has worked over the past 12 months to roll out the concept to two cities in Africa, namely, Addis Ababa and Kigali. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, as we experienced with the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, and there was added need for the process to become almost entirely remotely managed.

Kigali, Rwanda Kigali, Rwanda
Arup has worked over the past 12 months to roll out the concept to another two cities in Africa, namely, Addis Ababa and Kigali

Three stages of work were involved: Firstly gathering the indicators and data, followed by devising and agreeing the methodology before finally moving into the capacity building stage to be able to deliver the required change.  The adapted Approach accounts for limited institutional capacity and data-scarcity by grouping the indicators into four-levels of ambition – essential, sustainable, restorative, and regenerative. 

We also explored the relative utility of the qualitative and quantitative indicators. This enables the city to select the indicators aligned with their level of ambition and appropriate for their level of data availability.   The methodology has been further adapted for challenging environments, such as during a pandemic or in an area post-conflict. Importantly, this has included the development of capacity-building training and knowledge sharing, through digital tools and a variety of workshop approaches to suit different contexts including online, in-person and hybrid deployments. 

This plan has the potential to develop into a much larger urban water resilience programme for Africa, and crucially, it can be adopted by a wide range of stakeholders, including municipal and national governments, water utilities, river basin authorities, the private sector and civil society groups. 

Enhancing resilience to climate change

To date, almost 40 million people have benefitted from the influence of the CWRA globally. The water action plan developed for Cape Town for instance, has been ratified by the City Government and incorporated into Cape Town’s 5.8 billion Rand 10-year Capital Plan. Significantly, over the past 12 months, it has now been adapted to make it scalable from towns through to mega cities. 

We have established a process to improve public health, enhance communities’ resilience to climate change and other water related risks, and create natural and social value through water that results in a more inclusive and sustainable society. Our experience working with cities in LMICs has confirmed that a qualitative approach to diagnosing the water resilience is especially useful for cities with limited capacity and poor-quality data.  

We are therefore confident the adapted CWRA provides a tried-and-tested approach for resilience-building, that can be scaled up for LMICs around the world, providing technical assistance whilst crucially sharing knowledge to the regions which need support. As the African economy develops, there is a real opportunity to place green, resilient infrastructure in place from the start, considering future hydrological extremes. 

It provides a global blueprint for water resilience – and that is an exciting development.