As cities grow, so do urban water challenges. It is estimated that the urban population worldwide will nearly double by 2050 — an increase that has serious implications for water demand in cities. Urban water demand is expected to rise to 30 percent of the total global demand compared to the present levels of 15–20 percent. The rise of urban water use will also lead to more wastewater and water pollution. Climate change further exacerbates pre-existing water stresses and is already having a measurable effect on the urban water cycle, altering the amount, distribution, timing, and quality of available water. One of the biggest risks facing many cities in the developing world is water insecurity.
Jennifer Sara, Global Director of the Water Practice at the World Bank says that “urban water scarcity remains a common reality. A 50 percent increase in urban water demands is anticipated within the next 30 years. Scaling up water reuse in cities is an enormous economic opportunity — it can provide a reliable water source for industrial and agricultural uses, often at lower investment costs and with lower energy use. Treatment of wastewater coupled with effluent reuse also has important direct climate benefits. When it comes to building water-secure cities, we need to focus on innovative solutions and diversify the portfolio of water resources available in a creative, cooperative, and collaborative way.”
Rethinking urban water systems through circular economy and resilience principles offers an opportunity to tackle the water challenges by providing a systemic and transformative approach to delivering water supply and sanitation services in a more sustainable, inclusive, efficient, and resilient manner. Circular Economy approaches have emerged as a response to the current unsustainable linear model of “take, make, consume, and waste,” thereby reducing pressure on natural resources and minimizing waste.
A new World Bank report titled Water in Circular Economy and Resilience (WICER), aims to establish a common understanding of circular economy and resilience in the urban water sector.
“We see countries embarking on circular economy strategies; yet so far, the water sector has not been systematically included in those high-level discussions. However, circular economy principles offer an opportunity to recognize and capture the full value of water - as a service, an input to processes, a source of energy and a carrier of nutrients and other materials. With this report, we want to show that the water sector can and should be part of the Circular Economy,” says Diego Rodriguez, Lead Water Economist at the World Bank and co-author of the report.
Deliver, Design Out Waste, and Regenerate
The report presents the Water in Circular Economy and Resilience (WICER) Framework (see image below) together with global case studies that show the benefits of becoming circular and resilient. It describes the key actions needed to achieve three main outcomes: 1) deliver resilient and inclusive services; 2) design out waste and pollution; and 3) preserve and regenerate natural systems while also focusing on recovering, reusing, and restoring. The report sets out to demystify the circular economy by showing that both high-income and low-income countries can benefit from it. They are not “all or nothing” propositions, and cities should not be reluctant to implement them -- especially in light of the benefits they can bring.