Using Integrated Urban Water Management to Promote Sustainable, Resilient Cities in Africa

December 6, 2012

  • Cities in Sub-Saharan Africa are the fastest growing in the world -- the 320 million people currently living in urban areas in the region is expected to rise to 654 million by 2030.
  • Demand for water increases with population growth and economic development, and water demand in Africa is expected to quadruple over the next 25 years.
  • Water experts believe policy makers can promote a more sustainable and resilient future in cities by proactively implementing integrated urban water management (IUWM), a holistic approach to planning urban water systems, at the outset of urban infrastructure growth.  

As Africa urbanizes at a faster rate than any other region in the world, a more integrated approach to urban water management is needed to solve complex water challenges in Africa’s teeming, thirsty cities to make them more sustainable and resilient.

Related Resources:

Integrated Urban Water Management

Special report: The Future of Water in African Cities: Why Waste Water?

Latin America Integrated Urban Water Management

Interactive Maps: Past and Future Urban Extent in 31 African Cities

Blog: In Windhoek, Integrated Urban Water Management is key to closing the water loop

Press Release: African Cities Can Become More Sustainable, Resilient by Managing Water Better, Says World Bank

A World Bank report presented at the AfriCities Summit in Dakar, Senegal collates lessons of experience from 31 cities in Africa and globally, and shows how such approaches are leading to home-grown innovative solutions that could help guide the design of plans elsewhere.

The Pressing Need for a New Approach to Water Management

The World Bank report, “The Future of Water in African Cities: Why Waste Water?” aims to change the way policy makers think about urban water management, planning, and project design in Africa. It argues that by adopting integrated urban water management (IUWM) approaches, policy makers in African cities have a real chance to address diverse issues such as increased competition for water with upstream water users, improve urban planning by understanding water’s interaction with other sectors, and in the face of a changing climate, secure resilience in an uncertain future by relying on a diversity of water sources.

“Solving the challenge of urban water management is critical to unlocking the economic potential of Africa’s cities and improving the lives of city residents,” says Alexander Bakalian, World Bank Sector Manager for Urban Development and Services in the Africa Region.

“We need to understand how water is linked across sectors and innovate in the way we do project planning and implementation,” he adds. “It is noteworthy that some cities in Africa have started to consider integrated planning of water resources as part of their city development strategies.”

African cities are growing at 3.9 percent annually, the highest in the world, and existing water management systems cannot keep up with growing demand.  Studies project that over the next 25 years, water demand will almost quadruple — a much faster growth rate than any other region in the world.

Currently, about 320 million Africans live in urban areas, a number projected to rise to 654 million by 2030.  Population growth and growing water needs – for municipal, industrial, and ecological purposes – will all combine to put greater pressure on already scarce and dwindling water resources.

The IUWM Approach in Action

The IUWM approach seeks to improve urban water systems by urging policy makers to adopt a holistic view of all components of the urban water cycle.

"Urban water infrastructure in the future will look quite different compared to now. It will consider water scarcity and quality, as well as energy use and generation in an entirely different way,” according to Julia Bucknall, Sector Manager, Water Unit at the World Bank.  

Some of the critical questions an IUWM approach raise include:  

  • How is upstream land use and irrigation impacting water availability and quality downstream?
  • Are pit latrines and poor sanitation conditions contaminating groundwater?
  • Is solid waste clogging drains and thus causing flooding?
  • Does water for street cleaning and parks have to be potable?
  • Is water optimized for its multiple uses – drinking irrigation, and manufacturing?  

The recent World Bank report highlights success stories of African cities that are proactively implementing IUWM in their urban systems design. Bucknall notes, “while most cities in Europe and North America will have to rebuild, the fast-growing cities of Africa have a chance to do it right first time. This will require bold leadership but we have seen many African leaders who see the opportunities this new approach offers and we are excited to support them."

Examples of how African cities can use integrated urban water management include the following:

  • Windhoek, Namibia - Driven by pressures on water resources, 26 percent of Windhoek’s water supply comes from wastewater reuse making the city one of the few systems in the world that recycles treated wastewater for drinking water.
  • Arua, Uganda – Arua is proposing a low-tech system to treat wastewater in the expanding outskirts of the city. The system will combine decentralized wastewater treatment systems (DEWATS) with soil aquifer treatment (SAT).
  • Nairobi, Kenya – An integrated approach for reducing leakages, better management of water demand, stormwater and rainwater harvesting, and greywater recycling could provide added flexibility and resilience for the city.

The World Bank report is part of a larger IUWM effort funded by the World Bank’s Water Partnership Program (WPP), which is financing development of a conceptual framework and guidelines for implementation, as well as pilots on IUWM approaches in other large cities in Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe and Central Asia. The dissemination of the lessons from pilots has sparked interest by several cities such as Nairobi and Sao Paulo that are planning to use World Bank funds to incorporate IUWM principles into pilot projects.