Infrastructure for Water Resilience in Urban Areas

There is an urgent need for better capacity and research on the water impacts of climate change. We are therefore working on a proposal to build capacity and evidence-based guidance that will ensure that new water systems and upgrades of existing infrastructure in urban areas take into account climate change and will be resilient to projected changes.  A summary of the background to the project is provided below.

Climate change is predicted to, have significant impacts on water systems in urban areas and cities in South Africa (Muller, 2007; Department of Environmental Affairs, 2011). Higher temperatures will intensify demands made on already stretched water systems. Longer dry spells and droughts will increase the possibility of water shortages and outages. Storms and associated flooding are likely to affect water supply systems and affect water quality (Englebrecht, 2017; UNEP, 2014).

At the same time, rapid urban growth is placing increasing demands on existing water systems (South African Cities Network, 2014). Informal settlements and new townships developing on the periphery of cities and rapidly growing small towns all must be supplied with water (Brikké and Vairavamoorthy, 2016). Increasing densities, demographic transformation and changing lifestyles in existing urban areas are also leading to increased consumption of water (WHO, 2009; South African Cities Network, 2014). New land uses and the proliferation of impervious landscapes are resulting in amplified runoff,storm water flows and flooding (Roberts, 2010).

Ageing water delivery infrastructure has not always been adequately maintained leading to significant losses of water through leakage (Wensley and Mackintosh, 2015; South African Cities Network, 2014; SAICE 2011). Limited resources and capacity have meant that municipalities struggle to keep up with these demands and water service backlogs exist, and are growing, in many urban areas (Fatti and Patel, 2013)

However, the development of new water systems in unserved and under-serviced areas and the upgrading of existing systems offer the opportunity to develop systems that are more resilient to current and future issues such as climate change (Brikké and Vairavamoorthy, 2016;  Muller, 2007). As water and sanitation infrastructure may last over 100 years before being upgraded it is important that future variations, such as climate change, that may occur during its lifetime are taken into account in terms of water infrastructure and service planning.  Developing water infrastructure adaptation and mitigation technologies, systems and policies is central to a turn-around urban water resilient strategy that is key for the future sustainability of cities in South Africa.

Image: Cape Town Water Dashboard.