Urban water management in focus on World Water Day

Events related to climate change, including temperature increases, rainfall fluctuations, droughts, floods, heat-waves and cold spells place increasing demands on urban water and sanitation systems, and can affect people’s health when these systems malfunction or become contaminated. The most vulnerable are the urban poor, who often live in hazardous locations and in poor quality housing.

Under the theme “Water for cities”, World Water Day 2011 focuses on the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters on urban water and sanitation systems.

Good urban water management is complex. It requires coordination across many sectors and among different authorities, and institutional changes that promote a more sustainable and equitable use of urban water resources.

Under the Protocol on Water and Health, the first international legally-binding agreement for the prevention, control and reduction of water-related diseases in Europe, WHO/Europe supports its Member States in ensuring safe water and adequate sanitation through improved water management.

Urban water and sanitation in Europe

  • Cities require very large amounts of freshwater, which in turn has a huge impact on freshwater systems in terms of the extraction of freshwater and return of waste water. The WHO European Region is heavily urbanized, with over 600 million people living in urban areas. Six cities in the Region have a population of over 5 million.

  • A lack of adequate sanitation and safe water supply in cities can contaminate drinking-water, leading to gastrointestinal diseases such as cholera, typhoid, viral hepatitis A and dysentery. 
  •  In many cities in the eastern part of the European Region, old centralized systems suffer from operation and maintenance failures. This often leads to service interruption and drinking-water contamination, triggering outbreaks or increasing the incidence of water-related diseases.
  • The number of climate-related extreme events in Europe increased by 65% between 1998 and 2007, exposing or stressing freshwater resources and sanitation services, limiting water supplies or polluting water. The main effects on human health are gastrointestinal diseases, dermatitis and conjunctivitis.

World Water Day

Since its designation by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, World Water Day has been held annually on 22 March to draw attention to the importance of freshwater and to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.