Message from the Director General

World Water Day 2011

Celebrating World Water Day 2011, ‘Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge’

22 March 2011

Life began in the vicinity of water and major civilizations flourished in the surroundings of rivers -- a clear attestation to the fact that water is essential for life. But we cannot make use of water in any form; we require a certain quality and quantity. While water bodies have supported flourishing urban centres, in many cases, they have not been able to keep pace with recent rapid growth. According to the United Nations, in 2010 nearly half of the world’s population lived in cities -- more than 3.5 billion people. The world’s cities are growing at a great rate and urbanisation is increasing. Almost 38% of the growth is represented by expanding slums, and city populations are increasing faster than city infrastructure. This is particularly true in ICIMOD's member countries. Migration from rural mountain areas to lowland cities is a massive phenomenon in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region. Asia has the highest rates of urbanisation in the world; in South Asia the urban population is growing at a rate of about 2.6% compared to a world average of 2%. According to the recent report from UN Habitat, ‘State of the World’s Cities 2010/2011’, the urban population in Asia is now 42.5 % of the total. The report predicts that by 2023 the urban population will be more than 50% of the total, and by 2050 more than 66%. 

One of the challenges in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is that many urban centres are located far from the source of water. Significant investment has to be made to divert water for these urban populations. This is not only a financial and engineering challenge; it also has a very strong environmental aspect and political implications. Equitable sharing of benefits, both upstream and downstream is a major issue contributing to the problem of water scarcity and quality in urban centres and highlighting the need for integrated water resources management in our watersheds.

There is growing evidence that the problems will be further exacerbated by climate change. Water resources will be affected, both in quantity and quality, particularly through the impact of floods, droughts, and other extreme events. The effect of climate change will also mean more complex operations, disrupted services, and increased costs for water and wastewater services. In addition, climate change and disasters may increase the rate of migration to urban areas, increasing the demands on urban supply systems.

At ICIMOD, the situation calls on us to change our traditional work approach, and focus more on the strong upstream linkages and the dynamics of urban centres. We see great need and opportunities to study and practice payment for environmental services (PES) approaches related to water resources with our member countries and international partners. Sustainable water supplies from the mountain systems will be essential for promoting a green economy. Linking the growing demand from urban centres with a limited water supply is going to be a key challenge for the century.

Best wishes to all on this very special day,

Andreas Schild
Director General