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By Col. Bhaskar Tatwawadi (Retd.)

ARCADIS Design and Consultancy for Natural and Built Assets has published a Sustainable Cities Water Index recently. The report examines which cities are best placed to harness water for future success. The premise of the report is that the “Great Cities are defined and illuminated by the water that surrounds them or flows through them. Be it the harbors of New York, the river estuaries of London, the Amsterdam canals, the waterfronts of Doha, or the beaches of Sydney, water is what gives a city its unique magnetism and attraction factor”.

‘Water, the hub of life’…said the Hungarian physiologist and Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. So the cities which carefully and creatively manage their water assets for strategic urban advantage will ultimately be more liveable, safe, and competitive. Cities that are truly distinguished by a thriving relationship with their waterscape can make a huge contribution to the quality of life of their residents, attract tourism and investment (John Batten, Global Director of Water and Cities; Arcadis Report, Forewords).

In his Guest Foreword to the report, Dr. Ger Bergkamp; Executive Director, International Water Association (IWA) states – “Working with and making a comparison between peer – cities creates the awareness, insight, and foresight needed to build the sustainable and water-wise cities of the future. It is by using such metrics that cities can show citizens and investors how their water resiliency, water efficiency, and water quality make them attractive and world-class”.

Access to water was the prime consideration for the human settlements which later through the ages came to be known as cities and towns and villages. Through the process of evolution the entire biosphere today depends on sheer survival on access to clean water, disposing of wastewater, and protection from the danger of excess water through floods and extreme weather.

The sustainability index for the report has been developed based on three core elements of Resilience management, Efficiency management, and Quality management at the city level. These are further split into nineteen sub-factors. Resilience deals with water resources, vulnerability, and disaster risks. Efficiency deals with metering, leakage, reuse, continuity, and revenue. Quality deals with health, sanitation, pollution, and environmental effects.

Overall Sustainability
In the overall sustainability index, Rotterdam is at the top (1) and New Delhi at the bottom (50). Mumbai is a shade better at No. 49. In general, the European cities rank better than the other regions. North America, Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Latin America all have mixed fortunes in the rankings.

Resilience Ranking
In the Resilience ranking, New Delhi is at the 46th and Mumbai is at the 49th position. In my opinion, there is a built-in resilience in the sources at both the cities; one depending on the Yamuna River flows and Mumbai getting its water from the monsoon fed lakes of the hinterland. Even then, getting over 4000 MLD water for the city from over 100 km distance makes Mumbai more vulnerable. Delhi suffers from poor Yamuna water quality and pollution from upstream industries of Haryana.

Water-related disasters risk is very high in Mumbai due to the coastal ecosystems and tidal effect during extreme weather events. Delhi also has poor drainage problems due to urbanization and inadequate flood mitigation measures.

Efficiency Ranking
In Efficiency rankings, Copenhagen ranks first, Los Angeles second. Mumbai is at the 49th place and Delhi following closely is 50th. While in Mumbai, the non-revenue water and metered water nearly counterbalance each other, in Delhi both are indicated as negligible. Both cities are equally badly rated in respect of the reuse of treated wastewater. This is not surprising at all.

Quality Ranking
As far as the Quality sub-index is concerned, Toronto is at the top followed by Chicago. Delhi comes at the 46th place and Mumbai at 48th place. Both cities score very poorly on sanitation. Delhi has a much higher pollution load than Mumbai.

The cities in Europe and North America score high for water quality. When it comes to the categories of drinking water coverage, water treatment, sanitation, and low incidences of water-related diseases, cities perform well enough to sustain a growing economy. But scores go down fast near the bottom, below a certain developmental threshold. Inadequate access to sanitation and treatment of wastewater are the primary issues for many of the cities lower in quality rankings.

Liveability in Cities
Our cities are like magnets. They attract citizens from the undeveloped areas of the country in search of livelihood and a better quality of life. Population growth can overwhelm the water and sanitation infrastructure in these cities. Rapid and unplanned urbanization, increasing water scarcity leading to higher water rates, impact on flora and fauna, and adverse impacts on agriculture and other businesses critical to a city’s economic health – all impact the liveability of a city.

During extreme rainfall events, water excess causes flood damage due to poor drainage and stagnation in the coastal environment. Such damage is widespread even in the non-coastal cities due to poor drainage infrastructure. Aging and inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure cannot cope with the population pressure.

It is a no-brainer that our cities need to step up to become sustainable and to create the capacity to endure natural and manmade water challenges. They also have to develop and implement policies and practices to efficiently manage their water resources and to optimize water quality and quantities.

It is quite interesting to note that in the context of the dynamic of the climate change vulnerability, even the high ranked cities in this report can’t readily face the challenges likely to be confronted including extreme weather and other disruptive events. Sustainability is not only for water but, also about these challenges that interconnect.

Resilience in future planning, adaptivity, and developing bouquets of alternatives inclusive of disaster management strategies is imperative. Multi-pronged solutions, optimization of water use and reuse of treated wastewater, infrastructure preservation, renewal and management, stormwater dissipation and disposal, desalination for augmenting water supply in coastal areas can provide substantial and substantive answers to the existing and futuristic problems.

About the Author
Col. Bhaskar Tatwawadi (Retd.) is the Technical Director at Tandon Urban Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai. An army veteran and a Civil Engineer from VNIT Nagpur with a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering (with Honors) from IIT Roorkee, he has over 45 years of professional experience.

His 22 years stint in the Army, Corps of Engineers, included the construction of water treatment plants and the design of many sewerage and sewage treatment projects for military, naval, and air stations. Later, he has worked on many projects in water and wastewater management including the design and execution of rural and urban water supply and sanitation schemes, the Visakhapatnam Industrial Water Supply Project (1998), construction of the BWSSB Water Treatment Plant of 300 MLD (2000 -01) and the first Chennai Metro-water Seawater Reverse Osmosis Plant of 100 MLD (2007). He has led design teams for several industrial wastewaters to recycle projects for automobiles and textiles industries.

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