3 min read

Given that the UN has predicted that the global population will rise to nearly 10 billion by 2050, the need for action on water sector management is pressing. The UN’s SMART city concept consists of six elements – buildings, energy, integration, mobility, public services, and water. The overall aim of these initiatives is to make cities more efficient and, above all, sustainable.

A SMART approach involves taking a 360° view of the issue, which means managing infrastructure intelligently –  where we get water from, the way we treat it and how we get it to those that need it.  Many cities around the world have adopted creative and innovative methods for enhancing not only the sustainability of water supply but also the ways in which big data allows networks to interact and integrate with one another. They are also focusing on the key factor of user education when it comes to water as a finite resource.

The following are three examples of cities around the world, all of which face their own challenges, whether it be user awareness, geography, technology, or resources (money, primarily).

New Delhi, India

The water sector has been in a critical condition in the Indian capital, New Delhi, for many years. A particular district, Malviya Nagar, near the city centre, was unable to provide a water supply for more than 3 to 8 hours a day and network efficiency was a very poor 33% (in comparison to 75% average in most large Western cities).

The city of New Delhi, therefore, chose to enter a public/private joint venture with French water and waste management giant Suez to address the critical problems of leakage and distribution in the district.  SUEZ and national infrastructure company SPML aimed to;

  • Give residents an uninterrupted water supply 24/7.
  • Use call centres for customer service, in order to be closer to the end-user and deal with queries and complaints more promptly and effectively.
  • increase network efficiency to 85%.
  • Replace 50% of the current 200 km of pipes, extending the water network in the process.

As a result of this joint venture, the water supply now reachers 61% of urban dwellers and the call centre is functioning effectively. Obviously, it is hard to measure the overall effect, but it shows that innovation is not only confined to technology but in working in tandem with external companies in order to maximise financial resources.

Oslo, Norway

Over many years, around 35% of Oslo’s drinking water has been leaking out of the water system on its way through pipes to the end-user. That’s a lot of lost water on a regular basis. Until recently, negligible attention was paid to this problem by the city’s authorities. However, Oslo has been catching up very quickly and has ambitious and extensive plans to reduce this loss to the absolute minimum and thus guarantee a clean drinking water supply for the foreseeable future.

Digitalisation and knowledge is the way forward to optimising water management. By taking a proactive approach to getting an overview of water leaks and flow and pressure variations in the pipe network, city water and sewage engineers can better model and assess the effects of different measures before actually putting them into action. The innovation has been in breaking down the networks of pipes into smaller sections, making them easier to manage and monitor.

Lima, Peru

The Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation in Peru has been acting in partnership with the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme to encourage water-saving measures and generate willingness among the population to actually pay their water bills (partly through an education programme making them much more aware of the impact of climate change on the environment).

The project was aimed at the younger end of the population as awareness of the problem was found to be lacking in that age group. A nationwide writing competition was launched with great success and Lima currently employs a full-time schools officer to help schools around the capital give good quality information and awareness-raising activities around water and the importance of its sustainable management from here on.