H. Subramaniam
July 25, 2016

For many centuries, water has helped shape the destinies of the world's greatest cities. Great cities used water to access trade routes, to build habitations and to safeguard from enemy attack. The strategic importance of water for the social and economic development of cities remains paramount. About half the world's population lives in cities and this number is projected to increase to 80 percent by 2050.

The World Economic Forum has identified water crises as one of the top three highest global risks to economies, environments and people. Water demand, quality, climate change and pollution impacts are creating major challenges for many major cities. Indian history reminds us of the famous city of Fatehpur Sikri, built by Emperor Akbar, that had to be abandoned due to water scarcity.

In this context, I was delighted to learn about the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Water Index,that has been recently brought out. The study assesses 50 global cities by the stewardship of their water across issues impacting their water resiliency, efficiency and quality to show which cities are best positioned to harness water for their long term success.

As could be expected, European cities lead the way on the overall sustainability of their water systems. They hold 7 of the top 10 positions. Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Amsterdam have the top 3 rankings. Interestingly, major historical cities like London (21st) and Rome (28th) have some way to go before they come up to expectations. In North America, Toronto, Washington DC and New York lead the list.

Asian cities come in the middle of the pack. Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong lead the way. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, New Delhi and Mumbai are at the bottom of the list of 50 cities. It requires a whole article to explain this reality, and we will leave that for another issue. We will carry the details of the Cities Water Index in the next issue of EverythingAboutWater, and the study is instructive in the impact that water has on civilizations.

The larger point is that the cities that best understand the water issues and act first will be the ones that save the planet from an impending crisis. They will also be the first to attract investment and to improve their competitive position. Cities that carefully use their water assets for strategic urban advantage will ultimately be more livable, safe and competitive. The quality of life of the inhabitants can be significantly enhanced by creative usage. This draws tourism, investment and employment.

Overall cities need to make greater investment to improve their resiliency to extreme weather events and unforeseen water shortages. Leaders from government and society need to take a hard look on the issues involved and implement measures to make their cities better on the water index. As many of them may quickly realize, a higher Water Index might be closely related to a better City Index.

H Subramaniam H. Subramaniam is Editor, EverythingAboutWater magazine. He can be reached at

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