An initiative by the World Bank’s Global Water Practice to help embrace and implement circular and resilience principles in cities around the world.
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The current water crisis is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Water challenges are particularly salient in urban areas, where, for the first time in history, more than half the global population lives. It is estimated that the urban population worldwide will nearly double by 2050 — an increase that has serious implications for urban water demand. Presently at 15–20 percent of global water consumption, urban demand is set to rise to 30 percent. Increasing 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. Urban water supply and sanitation services, which are often provided by public entities, will bear the brunt of these challenges, on top of the performance issues observed in many public sector entities.
Circular Economy principles have emerged as a response to the current unsustainable linear model of “take, make, consume, and waste.” Yet so far, the water sector has not been systematically included in high-level circular economy strategy discussions. In practical terms, a circular approach designs products that reduce pressure on natural resources and minimize waste. 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).
Rethinking urban water through the circular economy and resilience lenses offers an opportunity to tackle all these challenges by providing a systemic and transformative approach to delivering water supply and sanitation services in a more sustainable, inclusive, efficient, and resilient way.
To achieve its full benefits, a circular water system needs to embrace resilience and inclusiveness. Resilience should be integrated into any circular strategy to prepare cities for uncertain shocks and stressors in order to avoid the undesired impacts of a disruption or failure of water services. As developing countries continue to grow and urbanize, middle- and low-income countries must be supported as they transition to a circular economy so that vulnerable groups also benefit from those interventions.
The objective of this initiative is to establish a common understanding of circular economy principles and resilience in the urban water sector and to support countries to implement those principles. The team has developed the Water in Circular Economy and Resilience (WICER) Framework (see image below) to guide practitioners who are incorporating the principles in policies and strategies, planning, investment prioritization, and design and operations. The main report of the initiative, Water in Circular Economy and Resilience, 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. The initiative has also developed case studies and compiled examples, guidelines, and other relevant materials, which can be found in the report and in the “Resources” section below.
Applying the framework provides not only environmental benefits, but also social, economic, and financial ones. Examples provided in the report show that investments in circular and resilient systems yield economic and financial payoffs and can help utilities attract private sector financing. The report provides examples such as: water utilities that have re-evaluated the full potential of their existing infrastructure - resulting in huge savings in delayed capital investments; water utilities that have implemented energy efficiency and non-revenue water programs, recovering the investments in less than three years while saving water and energy and increasing the amount of people with access to services; water utilities producing renewable energy and reaching energy neutrality; water utilities recovering resources from wastewater and creating a new revenue stream by selling energy, water, and fertilizers to cover operating costs; municipalities that have partnered with the private sector to restore watersheds and provide sanitation services; etc..
The WICER report also highlights the role of the water sector towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through, for example, energy efficiency measures and self-generation of renewable energy. The report shows that applying circular economy and resilient principles in urban water contributes towards the achievement of several SDGs and is also in line with the climate agenda.
To avoid being locked into linear and inefficient systems, low- and middle-income countries can leapfrog and apply the WICER framework to design and implement circular and resilient water systems from the outset. Using the WICER framework, the World Bank will continue to support and collaborate with countries and cities to create a long-term plan that suits their respective communities.
Check out the Interactive Webpage of the WICER Initiative.