Press release | 29 Aug, 2010

Working with water for better cities

Growing populations in towns and cities worldwide mean that more pressure is placed on our natural water supplies. Protecting water resources upstream must become a priority to ensure that people living in towns and cities downstream have access to clean water for their basic needs.

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Photo: Jim Thorsell

“Healthy ecosystems provide vital services that keep clean water flowing to cities and that build social and economic resilience needed for cities to cope with climate change,” says Mark Smith, Head of IUCN’s Water Programme. “Intact mangroves buffer coasts against storms, healthy forests and wetlands reduce disaster risks, and well-managed floodplains reduce the vulnerability of cities downstream.”

During the opening of the IUCN Exhibit within the World Water Council pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in China, which focuses on the theme ‘Better City, Better Life’, IUCN says that effective management of nature is key to securing the flow of clean water to our cities.

Increasing urban populations continuously multiply the demand for fresh water, food and energy. One of the most effective ways to meet this need is to improve the resilience and health of watersheds and river basins. Cities can also be highly polluting for water resources, in terms of urban, industrial and municipal waste from chemicals, sewage and hydrocarbons. Cities are therefore important areas to focus on for improved planning and water management, in terms of the supplies they need, and the waste they put into water systems.

“Nature offers many answers to these pressing demands. For example, it is possible to use natural infrastructure to address both watershed function and treatment of pollution,” says Zhuang Hao, IUCN China Programme Coordinator. “However, in China, since these ecosystems typically cross many jurisdictional boundaries, it is critical to coordinate water conservation activities with different government bodies to ensure effective basin-wide water management.”

It is expected that by 2015, over half of the population in China will be living in towns and cities. According to the Ministry of Water Resources in China, more than 400 out of 663 cities in China suffer from water shortage problems, with more than 100 suffering severe water shortages.

“With a large percentage of the world’s population moving to urban areas, clean, affordable, and timely supply of drinking and domestic water to its residents has become a priority,” says Ganesh Pangare, IUCN’s Water Coordinator for Asia. “The environment provides critical natural infrastructure for water to cities. Strategies for investment to reduce the vulnerability of cities will need to include maintenance and restoration of watersheds, wetlands, rivers and coasts.”

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Nicki Chadwick, Media Relations Officer, IUCN, t +41 22 999 0229, m +41 79 528 3486,
Li Lap, Communications and Constituency Officer, IUCN China Liaison Office, t +86 186 112 11110, e