Talk19 Resilient Cities, Robust Water Management: Emerging Solutions for Sustainable Cities

Wednesday, 27th June 2018


From 2009 onwards, several teams including the World Bank, Deltares, the Dutch Infrastructure and Environment Ministry, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst - began experimenting with a series of new approaches to deal with high-uncertainty issues such as rapid demographic change and climate change in which risk tolerance is low and quantitative frameworks are necessary. These frameworks were developed to address the environmental aspects of cities that accelerate degradation and affect the quality of life. More recently, a global consortium funded by the Rockefeller Foundation has worked to create an overarching framework that links high-level urban decision makers and technical and operational concerns. In most of these programs, water resources management plays a key role, given the volatility of the water cycle to climate impacts and the cross-sectoral nature of water resources and water threats.

LEAD Pakistan hosted an interactive session on Resilient Cities, Robust Water Management: Emerging Solutions for Sustainable Cities as part of its LEADING Perspectives series on Managing Shared Basins. The guest speakers Dr. John Matthews and Dr. Martin Shouler discussed new approaches, the development of a set of next generation tools, and the global application and integration of these tools to urban sustainability.

Vulnerability and its Solutions

Water resources management is quantitative in terms of framing, implementation and decision-making. Water maybe the primary stressor with the full range of impacts but it's also an opportunity to provide a linkage across sectors and across institutions. However, when ecosystems and social structures are taken into consideration there is very little tolerance and very little space for failure. The great floods and droughts in the past decade are a perfect example of that. So, the most urgent question that arises is, how to make decisions for long-term solutions.

A global standard has been a top down approach starting with the decision-makers who define the problem or need with involvement of a technical analyst (hydrologist, economist, engineer or finance person) who develops a single solution which may include some information about climate change which is presented to the users, civil society and stakeholder. This approach is very inflexible and narrow, where users and stakeholders are often not involved in the process at all. The negotiations over Indus Basin between India and Pakistan is one such example. There are many aspects of technology that are also changing at the same time as climate, and that complexity is equally challenging right now. We are transitioning into a new era that may be referred to as the 'post optimization era', where the focus is not on one single solution rather an alteration of the groups involved in the decision making process and at what stage they are involved. Involving technical analysts to work closely with the users and stakeholders, in order to define what the problem is and suggesting multiple solutions, whilst making sure climate risk is very deeply integrated into that aspect is the post optimization approach. As a result, several solutions can be staged at several times and can come as an evolving process.

A bottom up approach on the other hand, is very different and related to people who are truly affected. A bottom up approach provides opportunity to understand the complexity, the data limitation and the type of the systems that are present.


To build the resilience of any city, the challenge is to recognize and understand the complexity of its urban water systems, environment and interconnection with communities and stakeholders across the water basin. A framework to assess the water resilience of cities in a holistic and pragmatic way has been established as part of the global consortium funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Through this work, they hope to plug a gap in understanding the complexities of urban water systems. It will develop new knowledge and practical tools to enable cities to assess and plan for resilience. The aim is not only to help cities identify key vulnerabilities, but also to improve their decision-making so they can prepare for a changing future.

No city is resilient, unless it is water resilient. Water resilience is at the heart of sustainable water resilient cities. Evidence is visible in the shape of drinking water, depleting ground water and even horizontal extensions that is eating up the cascade areas in the South Asian regions. Ultimately, all frameworks and tools hinge on three things 1) how best to protect catchment areas of the city 2) how usefully can urban water systems be co designed and 3) how much can a city become resilient to urban challenges. At the end of the day, the challenge is at the local level; to respond to which, only a bottom up decision-making process that is robust and flexible can work.

Pakistan will face a potential water crisis in the not too distant future, with more demands being placed on the water systems. By having that foresight it will not only allow city planners in planning but also taking decisions at the right and appropriate time. Taking a holistic view allows to understand the wider governance issue and to take decisions to address the vulnerabilities in the man-made water systems.

Just like developed countries, Pakistan is also moving towards smart cities. Smart cities is all about quickening the decision making process and linking data in real time. Therefore, it is not just about making use of on ground technology, but the ability to use real time or satellite data is very effective. Pakistan is well prepared for taking on such a challenge, even if it is for a short time; in weather or climate forecasting, it can be critical use of data. Therefore, there is real opportunity for a rising Pakistan to be able to embrace the Smart city concept and making the right use of technology.

Like many places, in Pakistan we are not just seeing floods or droughts we are seeing both climatic extremes. Therefore, in terms of aquifers Pakistan can harness those floods and create ground water recharge zones and aquifer recharge zones. The extreme floodwaters can be isolated since it is certain that this water will keep coming every year, therefore it can be used to recharge ground water and be used in super intense periods. Another alternate for smaller rivers can be sand dams, which has been widely explored and East Africa and developed by Europeans. Sand dams are simple, low cost and low maintenance dams and can be very effective in Pakistan.