Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 45, Spring/Summer 1999
Water in Cities

"Water in Cities": An artificial divide

by Katherine Waser


As I began reviewing articles submitted for publication in this spring/summer 1999 issue of the Arid Lands Newsletter, one thing became abundantly clear: to create a category of "water in cities" is to create a false and untenable separation of urban water issues from other water issues, and (if only implicitly, due to the arid lands focus of this newsletter) of arid lands cities from cities located in more temperate climates.

Consider the question of climate first. Cities located in any climatic region must deal with issues of obtaining adequate water supplies to support needs ranging from domestic to industrial and agricultural, all within the city itself or the surrounding peri-urban region. Cities in all climates must also strive to ensure that the water provided their citizens is of good quality so as to promote good health; deal with treatment and, increasingly, necessary re-use of domestic wastewaters and industrial and/or agricultural effluent; and ensure adequate capacity to handle storm water runoff even in large-scale precipitation events.

Furthermore, in the face of increasing evidence of climate change, all cities--whether in arid, semiarid, or temperate regions--must increasingly factor into their overall water planning the possibility of more frequent and more extreme short- and long-term weather events. Thus, it is clear that dryland cities and temperate climate cities face largely the same water problems; any differences are largely a matter of degree rather than of kind.

As the first article in this issue shows, the commonality of water interests among all cities, no matter what their climate, has not been lost on Australians. That country's Urban Water Program is an ambitious new initiative intended to integrate urban water issue planning among all Australian cities, whether located along the more temperate East Coast, the semi-arid far south and west of the country, or the arid interior.

Even more fundamentally, the articles in this issue make clear the necessity of considering the linkages between urban and rural water issues, as well as among domestic household, industrial and agricultural water issues, if water use planning is to be successful. From Morocco comes an example of international and local cooperation to find ways to meet the needs of burgeoning urban populations while not overburdening water supplies also needed in surrounding rural areas. In Central Asia, republics struggle to meet their citizens' water needs, hampered by problems such as aging infrastructure, economic difficulties, and ecological problems caused in part by severe agricultural and industrial pollution of previous decades. In Arizona, USA, city, county and private company officials in the state's two large metropolitan regions are experimenting with the use of constructed wetlands to achieve multiple purposes ranging from wastewater treatment and re-use to wildlife habitat provision. Finally, from a political economy perspective, we are invited to consider the ability of cities to meet their water needs in the broader context of global trade.

On a slightly different note, this issue also contains a report forwarded to ALN by SCOPE, the South Asian focal point for RIOD. RIOD is the global network of community-based organizations (CBOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are working to implement the provisions of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification. During a meeting held in Islamabad, Pakistan from 24-26 May 1999, delegates considered how to establish a multi-stakeholder coalition for the implementation of the Convention in the Asian region. This editor's conviction is that implementation of the Convention is of primary importance to residents (whether humans, animals, or plants) of all countries of the world, no matter what their climatic regime. Because of the complex nature of desertification, it ultimately affects regions far beyond its ostensible geographic limits; as when, for example, human conflict exacerbated by desertification's effects causes an outflow of migrants to other countries which may be located in much more temperate climates. Therefore, submittal of articles concerning Convention-related activities and developments is always welcome, no matter what the "formal" topic of any particular issue of the Arid Lands Newsletter may be.

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