WATER SECURITY and CITIES - Integrated Urban Water Management Report -UNESCO

Water for cities


With more than 50% of the global population already living in urban areas, cities increasingly face challenges in providing more water for growing urban populations. To meet these challenges, a holistic approach under the Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) framework is essential.

Integrated Urban Water Management is an approach to managing the entire urban water cycle in an integrated way—a key to achieving the sustainability of resources and services. It incorporates: the systematic consideration of the various dimensions of water, including surface and groundwater resources, quality and quantity issues; the fact that water is a system and component which interacts with other systems; and the interrelationships between water and social and economic development. (The definition of “Integrated Urban Water Management” in the UNESCO Urban Water Series, 2007-2012) Water for cities With more than 50% of the global population already living in urban areas, cities increasingly face challenges in providing more water for growing urban populations.

To meet these challenges, a holistic approach under the Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) framework is essential. 50% of the global population live in cities.

More than The Global Water Security Issues (GWSI) Series Issue No. 4 focuses on Water Security and Cities: Integrated Urban Water Management and outlines various IUWM options and applications to highlight the importance of integrated approaches to urban water management to make cities sustainable and resilient. This issue presents a selection of practical cases of the implementation of Integrated Urban Water Management approaches to managing water in cities.


Urbanization is expected to grow over the next three decades from 56% of the world’s population living in cities in 2021 to 68% by 2050—with an increase of 2.2 billion urban residents, living mostly in Africa and Asia (UNHabitat, 2022). According to the Degree of Urbanization methodology, cities are defined as settlements of at least 50,000 inhabitants in a high-density cluster of grid cells (greater than 1,500 inhabitants/km2). Urban areas in OECD countries are classified in four categories as: large metropolitan areas if they have a population of 1.5 million or more; metropolitan areas if their population is between 500,000 and 1.5 million; medium-size urban areas if their population is between 200,000 and 500,000; and, small urban areas if their population is between 50,000 and 200,000 (OECD, 2023). Cities of all sizes play important roles in meeting global challenges, including climate change and poverty reduction. UN-Habitat estimates that two-thirds of the 231 indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have urban components (UN-Habitat, 2023). The concept of Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) is relatively new and has a range of definitions. There is no common definition of IUWM that is generally applied. UNESCO, during the implementation of the 7th phase of the International Hydrological Programme (IHP-VII, 2008-2013), developed the following definition: “Integrated Urban Water Management is an approach to managing the entire urban water cycle in an integrated way—a key to achieving the sustainability of resources and services. It incorporates: the systematic consideration of the various dimensions of water, including surface and groundwater resources, quality and quantity issues; the fact that water is a system and component which interacts with other systems; and the interrelationships between water and social and economic development” (UNESCO Urban Water Series, 2007-2012).

For this publication, there was no attempt to endorse a single formal definition of IUWM to serve as a unifying characterization of the term. Notwithstanding the lack of a commonly accepted definition, IUWM encompasses all aspects of water security, including water use and availability, water quality, resiliency of water resources and systems, socioeconomic issues related to urban water, institutional, human and technical capacities and innovation, as well as management, protection, conservation and recovery of water resources and the natural aquatic environment. Securing water for people and ecosystems is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and goes well beyond access to water and sanitation. Several SDGs include targets that incorporate elements of IUWM, such as SDG 6 for Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG 11 for Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG 12 for Responsible Consumption and Production, SDG 15 for Life on Land (ecosystems and biodiversity), and Introduction other goals.

Water security has increasingly become a priority at the national and global levels as water resources are under growing pressure from global changes. Although water security has received greater consideration as a concept in research and discussions over the past decade, there are a variety of topics related to water security that have not yet been extensively researched. As such, there is an urgent need to conduct research on emerging and future global water security issues in the context of the SDGs and to disseminate results of these studies. The UNESCO Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), founded in 1975, supports Member States to implement the water-related SDGs and other relevant agendas through strengthening the scientific knowledge base, education, and capacity-building for sustainable water resources management and governance.

 The IHP recognizes water security is a key challenge for the 21st century, as reflected in strategic plans for its 8th Phase (IHP-VIII, 2014-2021) and its current 9th Phase (IHP-IX, 2022-2029). The IHP-IX is dedicated to the overall theme of “Science for a water secure world in a changing environment” and includes priorities on: scientific research and innovation; water education; bridging data and knowledge gaps; integrated and inclusive water resources management under conditions of global change; and water governance based on science.

 As outlined in the chapters of this edition of Global Water Security Issues, tools to implement IUWM include a range of measures, including policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks, public engagement, education and awareness raising activities, innovative technologies, and approaches, financing for water-related investments, and monitoring and assessment practices. By their nature, cities operate within larger regional and/ or national-scale governance structures, requiring activities at the city scale to be consistent with the priorities, goals and objectives set out by central governments.

 City decision-makers benefit from understanding the history of their city and how the current conditions evolved, as well as national and global trends that are likely to affect the environmental, social and economic conditions in the near and longer-term future of the city. City planning is central to successful IUWM and incorporation of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) can help reduce the vulnerability of neighbourhoods and watersheds to water-related disasters like flooding and droughts and improve the resilience of urban areas to such disasters. A case study of Annaba, Algeria (Chapter 1 by Aroua and Mellouk), examines the opportunities and barriers to the implementation of WSUD on interconnected geographic scales. Governance measures for effective participation of stakeholders from civil associations and public or private social-economic partners are in place, offering holistic and participatory urban planning approaches. However, planning processes at the watershed and sub-watershed scale, along with restoration or conservation of natural blue and green corridors, were two of a number of gaps identified. In the Bordeaux Metropolitan District, France (Chapter 2, Brown and Tapie), water has become a key feature in the planning policies adopted by the municipality. Through engagement on issues of improved living conditions for city residents and risks associated with water security, water topics became integrated with urban planning policy.

The prevailing approach shifted to consider larger spatial scales of influence that included neighbouring districts. Improved living conditions for residents under potential future scenarios of heatwaves and flooding call for increased natural features in the urban landscape. The integration of water with broader planning and risk reduction activities has inspired ideas for alternative governance structures while also deepening an understanding of the complexity of working towards goals of resiliency, adaptation and preservation for urban centres. Successful implementation of IUWM requires the active participation of various stakeholders. As demonstrated by a case study in Bhuj, India (Chapter 3 by Sheth and Iyer), the mobilization of stakeholders was key to successful deployment of decentralized water sensitive projects to improve water security in the city. After a devastating earthquake, a local nongovernment organization called “Arid Communities and Technology” (ACT) implemented projects to revive an ancient water resource management system that long predated extensions of modern water infrastructure to increasingly distant water sources. Multiple pilot-scale IUWM measures to harvest rainwater, monitor and recharge groundwater, and recycle and reuse wastewater have achieved their objectives.

 Water has been supplied to vulnerable populations, including Shivramandap slum. Institutional support was also an important aspect of the success of these decentralized measures. Building on available toolkits, the chapter authors documented an easy-to-understand IUWM framework for Indian cities, along with a step-by-step guide to implementation. The data co-creation process, in which stakeholders are engaged in co-creating the data required for water supply planning and management in Bhuj, is an example of community participation and different actors’ involvement in the design, facilitation, and implementation of projects, from their conceptualization to implementation.

 This is important as experienced representatives from the local community retire or are replaced. The diverse benefits of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), including physical, social, economic, and environmental features, gathered primarily through public engagement processes, are highlighted in three community case studies in the United Kingdom (Chapter 4 by Jose and Wade).

SuDS techniques extend beyond traditional technical drainage designs and can be best implemented through governance and planning frameworks that support the delivery of their multifaceted benefits. Positive public perception of SuDS and public awareness of the benefits of SuDS can spur their inclusion in government land use policies and provide incentives for land developers and estate agents to promote the techniques. Innovation to meet urban water demands can take a range of forms, from comprehensive application of measures to new ways of thinking about source water. Water security challenges in Lahore, Pakistan (Chapter 5 by ZakirHassan et al.), were exacerbated by a decline of about one meter per year in the groundwater level.

 Two government agencies collaborated to put in place measures to successfully stabilize the trend. Initiatives implemented included technological and management instruments, ranging from tubewell monitoring and operational improvements to rainwater harvesting, water reuse, irrigation channel reconditioning, and regulatory and governance measures. The chapter authors lay out recommendations to guide additional initiatives that will continue to improve scientific understanding, build public awareness, and further strengthen the policy and regulatory framework for IUWM.

 The city of Kocaeli, Türkiye (Chapter 6 by Başaran et al.), faced imminent water stress but an extensive and systematic approach has been identified for holistic and integrated urban water use efficiency. An analysis of each element in the urban water use chain, from source to end-user, resulted in the development of water loss reduction measures, water reuse alternatives, full-cost water pricing, public awareness campaigns, and other initiatives. Although the city’s population is projected to increase over the next decade, the water demand can be met without inter-basin transfers, seawater treatment or deep groundwater extraction, all of which are expensive and pose sustainability challenges. The potential for rainwater harvesting to be integrated into existing urban supply systems was analyzed for seven cities in Ethiopia, Jordan, and Nigeria (Chapter 7 by Demeke and Amali). Estimated rooftop rainwater harvesting (RRWH) potential was based on satellite images, precipitation and land use datasets, as well as on regional and household scale water metrics. Implications at the household and administrative levels were assessed for water and energy costs. Rainwater has the potential to support domestic water supply in all cities studied, and a typical household in Abuja, Nigeria, could rely on harvested rainwater for its annual water requirements for domestic and household needs with associated water and energy cost savings. Governments and households have important roles in the RRWH implementation. Challenges include ensuring that monitoring and compliance to quality standards are in place for decentralized water distribution systems and that the larger-scale catchment hydrology is included in considerations for rainwater harvesting for domestic use.

An analysis framework of water and population indicators for cities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) (Chapter 8 by Saravia-Matus et al.) provides a systematic basis for assessment of water-related vulnerabilities, including quality, quantity, and access to potable water and sanitation. The authors stress that LAC cities have the highest rates of urban expansion globally and face significant water security challenges. Public policy instruments for urban water management in the capital cities of LAC are reviewed to identify opportunities and barriers to incorporating circular economy principles and nature-based solutions. The City Blueprint Approach (CBA) (Chapter 9 by Hofman, et al.) assessment by UNESCO is applied in six sub-Saharan African capital cities: Abuja (Nigeria), Bangui (Central African Republic), Harare (Zimbabwe), Libreville (Gabon), Windhoek (Namibia), and Yaoundé (Cameroun).

 The CBA assesses external trends and pressures, performance of Integrated Water Resources Management, and the governance capacity in a city. Young professionals were trained to collect and report on the data, including conducting interviews with key stakeholders. The CBA framework enabled analysis of commonalities and differences among the cities, even though the information was collected by a number of individuals in various locales. An Integrated Urban Water Security Index score is assessed for Beirut, Lebanon (Chapter 10 by Aboelnga, Shehayeb, and Abadi), using indicators within four dimensions: drinking water and human wellbeing; ecosystem; climate change and water-related hazards; and socioeconomic aspects. Based on the results of the assessment, recommendations are made to improve water security for Beirut. An alternative framework for conceptualizing relations between water and a city (Chapter 11, Ganoulis) is proposed and applied to the Attica Metropolitan area, which includes the city of Athens, Greece. The author posits that the integrated water resources management framework in common use has not successfully produced the expected results for urban water security due to its anthropocentric bias, which assumes natural freshwater resources are available in unlimited quantities to serve human needs.

As an alternative approach, with a goal for both cities and nature to retain their identities, as conflicts between stakeholders and nature arise, analysis and stakeholder engagement can lead to harmonization and resolution with participatory monitoring and management plans, to be able to respond to the continuously dynamic relationship of cities with nature. Urban water security includes water supplies, in some cases from unconventional sources, that are efficiently used and reused. Water secure urban environments protect and integrate nature to mitigate flooding and other hydro-climatic events in a manner that also recognizes the important role that healthy aquatic ecosystems play in enhancing water security.

IUWM is implemented through a suite of measures, such as policies, governance structures, monitoring and assessment frameworks, education, capacity-building and public awareness, and with robust stakeholder engagement throughout the various phases. The world’s urban population continues to grow. Securing water in fast-growing cities to sustain human well-being and economic growth is becoming ever more challenging, while water resources become scarcer and more polluted. As cities continue to face challenges of population growth, climate change, water resources degradation and depletion, biodiversity loss, ecosystem decline, and global and regional stressors, IUWM offers the basis for holistic urban water management with multiple benefits. This edition of Global Water Security Issues presents case studies of the implementation of various IUWM options and approaches to highlight the importance of integrated water resource management and strengthened capacity for robust management decisions to meet waterrelated challenges faced by cities.

These cases enrich the knowledge base for urban water management, support implementation of IUWM approaches in the world’s cities, and contribute to achievement of the SDGs at the local level. References Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 2023. Urban population by city size (indicator), https://doi.org/10.1787/b4332f92-en (accessed on 11 May 2023). United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). 2022. World Cities Report 2022: Envisaging the Future of Cities. UN-Habitat, Nairobi, Kenya.

https://unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/2022/06/wcr_2022.pdf United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). 2023. Sustainable Development Goals Cities. accessed in 5 June 2023, https://unhabitat.org/programme/sustainable-development-goals-cities United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 2007-2012. UNESCO Urban Water Series (Series Editors: Čedo Maksimović, J. Alberto Tejada-Guibert, Sarantuyaa Zandaryaa), UNESCO Publishing and Taylor and Francis, France.

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