Water Sensitive City: Toward Demand Responsive Approach in Urban Water Management

The latest report on State Of The World’s Cities mentioned one of the main challenges that impeded progress to the realisation of cities prosperity is inadequate infrastructure, especially in the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation (Habitat, 2013). The WHO/UNICEF (2012) Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation Report showed that between 1990 and 2010, the proportion of people able to access via a water piped system in urban areas has not improved, resulting about 130 million of people, mostly in developing countries, underserved. Similarly, the report showed that one out of five city dwellers worldwide, 714 million in total, are living without access to improved sanitation facilities (WHO/UNICEF, 2012). A study in Southeast Asian countries revealed poor sanitation from urban slums is one of many sources of freshwater pollution which caused high economic loss (Hutton, Rodriguez, Napitupulu, Thang P, & Kov P, 2008). In addition, extreme weather events that appear more frequently, such as long drought and high intense rainfall created by climate change, have worsened urban water system (Vörösmarty, Green, Salisbury, & Lammers, 2000).

In order to address those issues, the command and control paradigm is usually taken by governments at national as well as local level (Pahl-Wostl, Jeffrey, Isendahl, & Brugnach, 2011). The command and control paradigm is a supply-driven and top-down approach. It suggests technocratic decision-making, high technology engineering and centralised massive infrastructure for urban water system that is drinking water, wastewater, storm water and waterway (Tropp, 2007). Another characteristic of a supply-driven approach is sectorial analysis in identify problems and solution. Thus, provisions of drinking water, wastewater and storm water are planned and managed separately (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2011). As part of a supply-driven logic, substantial investment is needed to cover the construction, operation and maintenance cost of such infrastructure. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation or UNESCO (2012) reported not less than 15 billion dollar annually is needed to address water scarcity and sanitation problems. The report (UNESCO, 2012) also indicated how investment should be fulfilled with private sector involvement and public private partnerships.

However, the effective use of technology, and the operational and maintenance of water infrastructure require a supportive governance system (Tropp, 2007). For that reason the problem in urban water management is more closely tied or related to lack of institution and poor governance than investment, technology or infrastructure alone. As an illustration, Molle and Berkoff (2009) demonstrated that water is a contested resource between urban drinking water and rural agriculture which is shaped by economic, social and political factors. Consequently, Bakker, Kooy, Shofiani and Martijn (2008) concluded that poor performance of urban water management is a result of governance failure rather than state or market failure. These conditions highlight a necessity to move toward Sustainable Urban Water Management (SUWM), which some scholars, such as Wong and Brown (2009) advocated as a “water sensitive city.” This essay reports the distinction between the conventional or “old-school” urban water management and the SUWM, while at the same time exploring the opportunity and challenge to realise SUWM.

Urban water development is typically divided into binary conventional and sustainable urban water management. As mentioned previously, conventional urban water management is a command and control paradigm. In some literature, the term of SUWM is used interchangeably with integrated urban water management (IUWM), wherein both terms have a similar purpose – to achieve sustainability in urban water management practices. However, there is no single definition that could explain the broad aspect of SUWM. Mitchell (2006), for example, argued that SUWM is a comprehensive approach to water service in urban area that integrates drinking water, drainage and sanitation physical system. Instead of defining SUWM, researchers from Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (MISTRA), have set criteria such as health and hygiene, social and cultural aspects, environmental aspects, economy and technical that shape SUWM (Hellström, Jeppsson, & Kärrman, 2000). Other researchers, involved in the SWITCH project, promote SUWM as an alternative to conventional ways of managing urban water by covering  various aspects such as water cycle (water, wastewater, stormwater and natural system), climate change, socio-economic, institutional and environmental (Howe, Vairavamoorthy, & Stern, van der N. P, 2011). In order to capture broad aspects of SUWM, this essay refer to the definition proposed by Van de Meene, Brown and Farrelly (2011), “a strategy to overcome and or cope with the challenges facing our urban water systems, which include addressing the implications of population growth, climate change and environmental impacts of traditional urban water management practices,” (p.  1117).

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There are several way to characterise the difference between conventional and SUWM. From an adaptive management point of view, SUWM is a transition from a “command and control” to “adaptive and integrated” paradigm (Halbe, Pahl-Wostl, Sendzimir, & Adamowski, 2013). As a consequence of applying an adaptive and integrated paradigm, SUWM is shifting from finding panaceas to diagnosing feasible options (Pahl-Wostl, Lebel, Knieper, & Nikitina, 2012). Looking at urban water management as a wicked problem, Lach, Rayner and Ingram (2005) suggest three management approaches: first, controlling tame water problems; second, coordinating and domesticating; and lastly, adaptive management and civic science. Perhaps, the SUWM matches the last approach, where “extended peer community” such as communities, academicians, politicians and businesses are involved to produce more robust decisions (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 2003). Take an example of dam development that may benefit urban populations by having a new source of drinking water, but at the same time violating a rural community that has to be displaced with little or no compensation (Molle & Berkoff, 2009). In this view, SUWM should demonstrate a shifting behaviour from managing uncertainty of physical structure to managing ambiguous relationships with partners who have conflicting interests. Consequently, SUWM can be placed as an evolving process from infrastructure-intensive strategies to social interaction-intensive strategies (Lach et al., 2005).

The main characteristic of SUWM is the concept of ‘hydro-social contract’ or an implicit agreement between communities, governments and business that define and shape urban water transitions frameworks (Brown, Keath, & Wong, 2009). According to this framework, urban water management can be divided into six transitional processes; water supply city, sewerage city, drained city, waterways city, water cycle city and water sensitive city (Brown et al., 2009). Wong and Brown (2009) identified three pillars that characterise a water sensitive city. First, city as water supply catchments that promote flexibility in water source and infrastructure option e.g. centralised or decentralised infrastructure. Second, city providing ecosystem services which protect environment, especially waterways through catchment management. Third, city comprising water sensitive communities that put extended peer community  as key actors in defining urban water problem and directing the urban water development strategy. Accordingly the relationship with natural resource and built environment, including water, is strongly influenced by the communities’ preference and value. Wolch (2007) described this involvement as “ecological citizenship,” which opens the opportunity to a shift from conventional supply-driven urban water management into more demand responsive approach.

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In spite of the opportunity to realise SUWM that is shaped by ecological citizenship, Wong and Brown (2009) warned that new technology in urban water cannot be developed in isolation; otherwise it couldn’t be successfully implemented. Therefore, technology should be socially embedded into the local institutional context (Frame & Brown, 2008). The research on urban stormwater that has been carried out in New Zealand showed the lack of local authority support lead into slow uptake of SUWM technology (Winz, Brierley, & Trowsdale, 2011). Accordingly, the objective of SUWM to re-connect natural environment to society is a challenging task to be realised.



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