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Urban Water Resilience Under COVID-19: What Happens Next?

STOCKHOLM, Sweden

A Stockholm World Water Week session on “Urban Water Resilience Under COVID-19: What happens next?" on August 27 brought together water system leaders primarily from cities in the global south to focus on the challenges and corresponding lessons learned in coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the context of the current world health crisis, the session was convened virtually under the event's 2020 rubric "WaterWeek@Home".

An "OOSKAnews Voices" preview of the discussion, and relating issues can be found here.

Providing adequate water service is already a challenge in densely populated urban environments due, in part, to infrastructure, economic and societal conditions. The pandemic has raised that bar.

Convened by Francois Brikke (Mott MacDonald), Gyewoon Choi (Incheon National University), and Andrea Becerra (NDRC), water system leaders from Sao Paulo, Dakar, Jakarta and Addis Ababa joined representatives from UNESCO’s Megacities project, the World Bank, and Resolute Development Solutions to share challenges and the corresponding lessons learned since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Providing adequate water service in these densely populated megacities is already a challenge. Coping with serious threats to urban from COVID-19, climate change, or any other existential threat, require adaptability and responsiveness. The water leaders called for public awareness, infrastructure reliability and flexibility, and better coordination, collaboration and cooperation.

Monica Porto, advisor to the President of SABESP, described how the Sao Paulo’s informal settlements, inadequate housing and low ability to pay create an “everyday” supply challenge for the population of over 22 million. To address the challenges of COVID-19, the city drew heavily on the experience of the 2014/2105 drought.

Malick Gaye, executive director Enda Rup, highlighted that there is a daily water deficit in the Dakar. He emphasised that the more autonomous a municipality can be, the better able it will be in developing reasonable solutions. Dakar needs infrastructure to build resilience.

Oswar Mungkasa, former deputy governor with responsibility for Jakarta Resilience Strategy, confirmed that climate change had already brought challenges to Jakarta. To provide enough water for its population, the city focuses on 3 things: understanding the issue (preparedness), optimising supply (utilising multiple and alternative sources), and deployment of a plan. He emphasised that gathering local information and public awareness of the problems were crucial to solving the problems.

Zeriham Abate, general manager Addis Ababa Water and Sewer Authority, spoke of the necessity for thorough, reliable information, public awareness and flexible systems to enhance adaptation to specific challenges.

UNESCO’s representative, Alexandros Makarigakis, summarised recent surveys that broadly conclude that cities need to prioritise citizen education and infrastructure development. The “MegaCities Alliance” has called for better coordination between local, national, and regional authorities in order to address challenges to water supplies in the midst of a crisis.

Maria Angelic Sotomayor of the World Bank concluded the session calling for preparedness: more infrastructure investments, more nimble regulatory response, more collaboration and cooperation between sectors.

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