Water as a global risk: the impact on cities

Themes: Climate change
Countries: Ghana Ghana-local

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019, water crises has been identified as one of the top 10 global risks. As world leaders gather in Davos this week, our Chair highlights the link between water scarcity and urbanisation.

Lord-Paul-BoatengBy Lord Paul Boateng, Chairman, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP)

We live in a world that is increasingly urban.

The Accra of today is almost unrecognisable from the capital city of the Gold Coast in which I grew up.

This presents an opportunity for us – to create more jobs, increase prosperity and improve living standards.

But only if urbanisation is managed successfully.

For the poorest urban residents, life is precarious. There is no safety net; no room for setbacks. Climate change is reducing people’s resilience, and the poorest are particularly vulnerable from epidemics such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea.

At the heart of solving this challenge is Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and safe sanitation for all. SDG6 underpins good health, climate change resilience, gender empowerment, jobs and education.

And so that’s where Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor, which I am proud to chair, focuses its work.

I can recall the sense of excitement and expectation when we first had a flushing toilet installed in our house in Ghana. I know very well the difference this makes to a household.

Core to our approach is the fact that whilst people have a right to safe water and sanitation services, the public sector alone frequently does not have the capacity to deliver these services.

And that’s why we need to work with the private sector as well, to use its ability to innovate, understand customer needs and develop the right products. We want to make markets work for the poorest of the poor: and indeed, this is the only way in which we can ensure that low-income residents get access to the basic services.

We think our approach works, and are proud that over 18 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia have benefitted from our work.

Ensuring universal access to water and sanitation is an urgent issue. Already, nearly 900 million people live in low-income urban communities, most without such basic services. As urbanisation gathers pace, what will the situation be like in coming decades?

The extent to which cities can provide safe water and decent sanitation will determine the extent to which we can all live in a world free from global pandemics, social unrest and forced migration.

So let’s act now. We know the problem – let’s get to work to provide cities the tools that they need to tackle the issue and make urbanisation a force for good, and a focus for a sustainable and prosperous future.