Cities are facing a scarcity of water that is affecting millions of their inhabitants. The process of climate change will exacerbate this as it expands the number of drought periods over the years. Then there are other factors like the overdrawing of groundwater, increasing salination of water supplies, and deterioration in the quality of water, which are putting huge stress on already over-burdened water services. Most importantly, the issue of water security is emerging gradually due to the lack of adaptive strategies in the face of climate change.
The 2011 census in India reported a significant increase in the number urban dwellers compared to the population in rural areas. This growing population puts enormous pressure on the infrastructure of core services, and especially water supply. Most Indian cities provide access to water ranging from few hours per day to few hours every two to three days. While this not only highlights how water supplies in cities are erratic, it also highlights the plight of the remaining cities that do not have any access to drinking water.
According to the Population Action International analysis of the UN Medium Population Projections of 1998, more than 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will face water scarcity, or water stress, by 2025. Of these countries, 40 are in West Asia, North Africa or sub-Saharan Africa. Over the next two decades, population increases and growing demands are projected to create water scarcity conditions in all the West Asian countries. By 2050, the number of countries facing water stress could rise to 54, with a combined population of four billion people - about 40% of the projected global population of 9.4 billion (Gardner-Outlaw and Engleman, 1997; UNFPA, 1997 from www.unep.org).
Consequently, our world is more likely to be vulnerable to the effects of climate variability. This is particularly so in the context of water availability including its supply and quality. However, in order to make the water systems in cities robust, experts have suggested making it "resilient" enough by strengthening the capacity of systems and retrofitting the structures so they can absorb the shocks. To become resilient enough, the system should have the ability to foresee, reorganise and maintain its essential functions. Henceforth this will necessitate the building of adaptive capacities that reorients the system both at the city wide level and at the level of individuals.
Many cities have come forward and devised plans to ensure water security through frameworks such as: strategic plans on the African continent (GWP,2012); water resource management (ARUP 2011); Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) approaches in Namibia, Uganda, Kenya (World Bank 2012); a shared learning process in Indore, India (TARU 2011). However, these experiences have shown clearly that technology, financial investments, and public policy alone will not be able to develop any sustainable solutions. To activate these aspects, its contingent to build systemic changes that enable utilisation of data to optimise decision making in ensuring water resource security. In order to ensure this, its important to have better knowledge management by bridging knowledge gaps.
This completely supplements the strategy to ensure long-term water security by using various approaches to find ways of augmenting water resources. Better practices in terms of sharing data information would help with the careful knitting together of the basic foundations for management of water services including its quality and availability during a crisis. Such steps would facilitate decision making about effective options to deal with water security issues. Alongside this, knowledge management would encourage effective monitoring of the water services in terms of its supply, quality, shortages, and flood mitigation. Monitoring of these initiatives encourages a free flow of information among the stakeholders. While it not only provides an overview of water resources, it also give an understanding of climatic and non climatic stressors affecting water services at the city wide level. This could be done through better data management and capacity building of the managers by way of trainings. It would equip the agencies to take informed decisions and catalyse stakeholder participation through building the capacity to use appropriate information and apply it. Such aspects can play a very important role at the local level by benefitting water security in terms of water resources, its scarcity, and the response to floods.
Meanwhile, it's now an established fact that cities and their systems are more affected by the non-climatic factors. This not only impedes better management of water services but also weakens the resilience of the water services against the climate change. However, in order to ensure water security, it becomes necessary to develop systemic thinking incorporating components that thrive when the environment is changing. This can be made possible through better knowledge management: careful use of information that leads to better policy and management decisions. However, knowledge management can only play this role if these processes are institutionalised and policies are linked to action. These challenges can be met through efforts to engage stakeholders, integrate diverse perspectives and multiple knowledge sources on various issues associated with water security. At the same time, the information made available should be credible and accurate so it can be used in formulating policy and ensuring transparency in decision making.
Cumulatively, it strengthens water infrastructure operating both as a part of larger networks and also serving local communities at the local level by bridging knowledge gaps while at the same time ensuring water security. While our cities will continue to face the onset of both gradual and sudden changes in climate that result in loss and damage to the ecosystem and services, it is crucial that optimum measures to minimise their impacts are found. Cities around the world are using appropriate measures to bring about water security. Knowledge management coupled with the implementation of necessary policies will play a critical role in ensuring this outcome.