OOSKAnews Voices is a series of guest columns written by participants in different parts of the international water community.
In this article, Dr. Fred Boltz discusses the resilience of our cities and the vital role of water in the context of the COVID-19 shock, and looks forward to a 27 August World Water Week at Home (#WWWeek) session “Urban Water Resilience Under COVID-19: What happens next"?
Boltz heads Resolute Development Solutions, a consulting firm specialized in the design and execution of conservation and sustainable development programs. His current projects focus on water, climate change and the resilience of human systems. He has over 30 years of sustainable development experience, including 9 years in Africa, Asia and Latin America. He formerly served as a Managing Director at The Rockefeller Foundation, where he led the environment program. He earlier served in Conservation International’s leadership team as head of conservation strategy and practice.
Stress Testing The Resilience Of Cities: The COVID-19 Shock And The Vital Role of Water
Over the tumultuous decade of the 2010s, often prompted by the stresses and shocks of our changing planet and civilization, cities around the globe have increasingly recognized and embraced the imperative of building resilience to the change and uncertainty likely to be forever part of our future.
Resilience refers to the ability of a system to maintain its function and services under stresses and shocks. A resilient city sustains its industry, economy, social, cultural and environmental amenities. A resilient water system maintains its critical services of storage, supply, quality, and regulatory functions, including the management of storm- and waste-water and the mitigation and management of extreme events. For the purposes of the human endeavor, resilience is to the ability of critical systems and our civilization to thrive under change.
Cities are at the forefront of this challenge - and with massive populations, expanding settlements along low-lying coasts, rivers and flood plains and a nexus of health, economy, equity and other social challenges, cities are acutely vulnerable to lapses in critical systems from cyber to transport to water services.
City resilience efforts begin by assessing their most evident and acute vulnerabilities, and developing an integrated approach to strengthen resilience to these evident threats – from coastal storms, to flooding and drought, to social unrest, insecurity and conflict. Some have proceeded from developing resilience plans to specific threats to building holistic plans for general resilience – the ability of the city to respond to uncertainty and surprise, to unexpected extreme events.
Water is recognized as a key underpinning of the resilience of cities and other human systems. Water is vital to virtually every sector and aspect of the human endeavor and, while alone insufficient, is absolutely necessary for the resilience of cities. Recent efforts to build our understanding of water system resilience have been most urgently advanced in cities facing critical water challenges, such as Addis Ababa, Cape Town, Chennai, Dakar, Jakarta, Mexico City, Miami, Sao Paolo. Comprehensive water system resilience diagnosis and design efforts led stakeholders and decision makers to develop multi-sectoral visions for urban resilience through water. Beyond water system resilience itself, these efforts have considered how general city resilience may be achieved – harnessing water to strengthen all critical systems, such as transport, energy and health.
The extraordinary shock to economy and society levied by the surprise COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact on cities and urbanites. This shock has revealed the deep vulnerability of many cities and societies, while also providing lessons on what is necessary for resilience to the unexpected extremes we will face. Among these lessons is the recognition of the importance of water systems for the security of vital water resources during the pandemic.
How are cities learning from the pandemic? What lessons can and what tools will enable cities to rebuild better and respond to future uncertainties more effectively? Find out from water system leaders from Addis Ababa, Dakar, Jakarta, and Sao Paulo and from surveys of UNESCO Megacities, and with World Bank partner cities during the #WWWeek session “Urban Water Resilience Under COVID-19: What happens next?" Thursday, August 27, 12:00 CET (Stockholm)