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FEATURE STORY April 5, 2018

How Can Water Scarce Cities Thrive in a Resource Finite World? New World Bank Report Shares Strategies and Solutions


  • New report by the World Bank’s Water Scarce Cities Initiative (WSC) shares the experiences of cities worldwide that are building resilient water supply systems in increasingly water scarce environments.
  • By collaborating with urban water practitioners, global thought leaders, and institutions, the report makes the case for shifting the existing paradigm, and demystifies solutions for improved urban water scarcity management.
  • The report provides an up-to-date and innovative first-hand look into how water scarce cities are taking fate into their own hands, from exploring new ways to manage water to building resilience to severe droughts.

Water scarcity is not a new concept, nor a new phenomenon. History provides us with many examples of cities and countries facing challenges to securing stable and reliable fresh water supplies.

However, current trends challenge water managers and decision makers in new ways - from progressive depletion and deterioration of water resources to drastic changes in hydrology due to climate change. In fact, water practitioners recently gathered in Brasilia, Brazil for the World Water Forum and World Water Day 2018 to discuss the world’s most pressing water issues. Recent crises in Cape Town, South Africa and Rome, Italy provided a backdrop and served as a reminder of the urgency with which water resilience is needed.

Despite such concerning events, water demands are skyrocketing as cities expand, draining already scarce resources -- and water scarce cities are edging closer and closer to running dry. And, although a number of water scarce cities are actually beating the odds, their stories often remain undocumented, unavailable, and inaccessible.

A new World Bank report illuminates such valuable experiences to fill this important knowledge gap about the failures, successes, and innovative solutions of water scarce cities across the world. The report provides a cross-case analysis that dives into knowledge from over 20 case studies (to be published soon), to compare and contrast water resource challenges, technical solutions, and institutional mechanisms. In so doing, the report creates new knowledge and identifies the key drivers of positive change -- including how governance, capacity, or technological changes were addressed.

Through a review of some of the cities and states already beating water scarcity odds, the report encourages water scarce cities to adopt urban water scarcity management approaches that include:

  • Demand management and infrastructure efficiency
  • Innovative surface and groundwater management
  • Non-conventional water resources
  • Cooperation with other users
  • Adaptive water system designs and operations

Water scarce cities solutions do not have to be high-tech, expensive, or complex. However, solutions must work – and even better if solutions work together. This report turns traditional urban water security approaches on their head, and shows that there is not a one-size-fits-all pathway to urban water security.

Innovation across water scarce cities is required to beat bleak water futures. Through an analysis of urban water security in scarcity contexts, the report shines a light on existing solutions and interprets information in new and powerful ways.

By illuminating sophisticated water-secure visions and strategies, the report aims to inspire further pioneering actions across all water scarce cities – to bend the curve towards a water-secure world for all.

Editor’s Note

Stay tuned for the launch of the next Water Scarce Cities publication, comprising over 20 case studies from different countries and localities with each their own challenges and solutions, including Cyprus, Malta, Brazil, Singapore, and the U.S. southwest.

To learn more about how the innovative management of water scarcity in places like Malta can serve WB client countries, read more about WSC in Las Vegas and MaltaMarrakeshOrange County, and about the overall Water Scarce Cities Initiative and its events.