Delft, The Netherlands, 22 Mar 2022

Cross-disciplinary cooperation needed to meet cities’ water needs

With more and more people moving to cities from rural areas, urban water needs are changing. To prevent water scarcity in cities, water researchers, policymakers, professionals and utilities must prepare – and cooperate across disciplines.

This was the message delivered by speakers at the 15 March 2022 Water Summit for Global Development, organized by Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), and supported by IHE Delft and Utrecht University. IHE Delft Associate Professor Sergio Salinas was part of the event’s scientific committee.

The summit promoted water research that contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which world leaders have committed to fulfil by 2030. At that time, according to UN data, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, and one in every three people will live in cities with more than half a million inhabitants. This development can be beneficial to cities if they plan well, IHE Delft Rector Eddy Moors told summit participants.

“Cities should welcome migrants, see them as an asset and plan urbanization and especially water related needs, sanitation and treatment,” he said.

The event aimed to catalyse interdisciplinary relationships that can aid cities in meeting their new residents’ water and sanitation needs, something that requires time and effort among all involved, said Associate Professor Leon Hermans, Head of IHE Delft’s Land and Water Management Department. He shared methods for multi-actor experimentation in urban water transformations and noted that “water researchers need to engage in dialogue with urban stakeholders, and invest the time needed for dialogue. This means getting away from our desks and university campuses and into these cities.”

The need for cross-disciplinary, systemic approaches was emphasised by IHE Delft PhD candidate  Natalia Reyes, who challenged panellists with a question: “How can we as water professionals promote a truly systemic perspective to integrated water management - overcoming a siloed approach to water interventions?” She noted that local contexts, including the knowledge and experience of those affected by projects, must be respected.

IHE Delft Lecturer and PhD candidate Annelieke Duker presented her findings on the role of nature-based solutions for farmer-led irrigation development in Kenya, where farming is now done along sand rivers in traditionally pastoralist areas.

“Farmers, investors and land owners take opportunities in accessing water from sand rivers, yet at the same time face challenges and detrimental effects,” she said, adding that innovative approaches that support bottom-up development irrigation are needed.

Keynote speaker Elizabeth Tilley, Associate Professor of Global Health Engineering at ETH Zurich, emphasised that access to higher education is key for sustainable development. She called on European researchers doing water research focusing on Africa to work with and via African universities, and to cite African researchers.

To conclude the event, Dutch Water Envoy Henk Ovink looked ahead at the UN 2023 Water Conference to be hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan. The conference will bring together private and public organizations and other parties and to make the connection between water and areas such as climate, health, youth, economy and peace, he said.

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