Cities on the Frontline Speaker Series
#15 – Climate Resilient Urban Sanitation
The fifteenth installment of the Cities on the Frontline Speaker Series involved four presentations addressing the need for climate resilience in urban sanitation. As climate change continues to inflict shocks and stresses on cities around the world, urban sanitation is at times an overlooked necessity in the space of public health and resilience. The COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of including clean water and water accessibility for hand washing and sanitation in resilience infrastructure, expressed Mr. Christopher Wenzel, Deputy Head of Division, Water, Sanitation, Hygiene at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) the event’s co-host.
The panelists in this series demonstrated the different levels to water resilience within urban sanitation, proposing research to advocate for its importance as well as advances some cities have made in the face of these challenges.
Mintje Büürma, Policy Advisor, Sector Program Sustainable Sanitation, Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) presented findings from their recent study produced with Resilient Cities Network, “Climate Resilient Urban Sanitation: Accelerating the Convergence of Sanitation and Climate Action” to improve the understandings of the impact of climate change on urban sanitation and the potential for development in urban and climate resilience. There is no blueprint for achieving climate resilience for urban sanitation, but it needs to become one of the foundations of sanitation planning, according to Büürma. Sanitation is often overlooked as critical infrastructure, Büürma stated, and achieving SDG 6, clean water and sanitation for all, is highly likely to be lost if we continue to ignore the importance of sanitation infrastructure adaptation.
To emphasize this need for sanitation projects, Kapanda Kapanda, an independent consultant for the Lusaka Sanitation Program, highlighted the need for improved sanitation infrastructure in the City of Lusaka, Zambia. Their aquifer is extremely vulnerable to contamination because of fractures that allow faster recharge of water, and to the shocks that come with climate change. Because of this, Kapanda has worked to create capacity for sanitation systems, including properly connecting households to the sewer system. In this process, they are also looking to expand not only on adaptation, but mitigation practices.
This case study from Zambia demonstrated the importance of developing urban sanitation in areas that are under-developed. However, the event also featured a case from the City of Miami, where, although they are further in urban development, they also face similar shocks and stresses that require the same attention to water and sanitation support.
Hardeep Anand, Deputy Director of the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department, presented a brief yet in-depth overview of the shocks plaguing Miami with respect to urban sanitation. Miami faces vulnerabilities as a coastal town, pulling from a shallow aquifer for drinking water and the threat of salt-water intrusion into their groundwater. The city has partnered with USGS to continuously monitor their various extraction wells for salt-water intrusion, showing how technology and spatial analysis is a viable tool for urban sanitation resilience.
Additionally, to allow for sufficient household access to water, Miami has enacted Ocean Outfall Legislation to reduce nutrient discharge into the Biscayne Bay, which has been at a tipping point, experiencing algal blooms, fish kills and more. This legislation mitigates these impacts by reusing 60% of the wastewater flow for re-allocation of water and by reducing the use of ocean outfalls to keep their water sources clean. The City of Miami portrayed creative thought and innovation in the face of their sanitation pressures, a similar story to that of the last final event presenter from Singapore.
Mr. Khoo Teng Chye, Practice Professor, School of Design and Environment and Faculty of Engineering, National University of Singapore, and Fellow, at the Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore, displayed a detailed history of the challenges Singapore has faced since the 1950’s. He expressed the need for climate resilient urban sanitation because, as we have seen this past year, public health crises can bring national economies, and global economies, to a standstill.
The island of Singapore has advanced immensely in clean water innovation. Poor sanitation in the 50s and 60s brought disease and lack of clean water, pushing the country to develop a systems approach to clean water. They now view water as an asset rather than a hindrance, collecting rainwater, creating stormwater canals and closing the water loop by reusing water. As our world continues to grow and develop, a key point left by Mr. Khoo emphasized achieving livability with increasing city density requires increasing green space, creating a city of gardens and waters with nature-based solutions.
Each presentation touched on a different piece of urban sanitation, but as Mr. Chris Wenzel Deputy Head of Division, Water, Sanitation, Hygiene at BMZ remarked, “Resilience is not an end, it’s a journey”, and we must travel together on that journey to achieve our collective target. What unifies us on this journey is that we face the same challenges and more importantly, we are living in one world.