Switching to sustainable urban water management
Cities around the world are facing a myriad of pressures, including rapid urbanisation and urban sprawl. As a result, authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to manage scarce water resources, deliver water and sanitation services, and dispose of wastewater. At the same time, authorities must do their utmost to minimise the negative impact of such developments on the environment and urban populations.
The SWITCH project, which began in February 2006 and lasted for 63 months, challenged existing paradigms by finding and promoting more sustainable alternatives to conventional means of managing urban water. SWITCH project team also carried out action-oriented research in cities that reflected the expressed needs of residents.
With UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE) as lead partner, SWITCH comprised a consortium of 33 organisations working in 15 European and developing cities across the globe.
“The consortium worked hard to share knowledge and research on a wide range of tested scientific, technological and socio-economic solutions to urban water management,” said SWITCH project representative Peter van der Steen. “Such solutions are being adopted globally to replace the many different ad-hoc approaches which currently exist and to create sustainable urban water management in the “City of the Future”.
“Learning Alliances” which brought key stakeholders together to create win-win solutions across the water chain, were according to van der Steen, “a core feature of SWITCH”. Other important themes included “Action Research” which saw users addressing problems through innovation; “Multiple Learning” which enabled cities to learn from each other’s experiences and a “Multiple Level Approach” that considered the urban water system at various levels. Finally, renowned experts were heavily involved in the project, bringing essential scientific, technological and financial resources to the programme.
On 18th September 2012, the SWITCH consortium was honoured with the International Water Association's (IWA) Sustainability Award 2012 for “innovation in the practical realisation of sustainable urban water management” at a ceremony in Busan, Korea. According to the IWA, the impressive achievement of the SWITCH project was its demand-led learning Alliances: the notion that what the people want is at the cutting edge of what gets to be done to achieve water-sensitive cities.
In addition to winning awards, SWITCH has influenced water policy, deployed a comprehensive training package in use by Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and UNESCO-IHE, and produced multiple manuals, guidelines and analysis tools.
With nearly €15 million of funding under the Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6), the SWITCH approach of integrating water management at the city level, through learning alliances, research, demonstrations and training, has been taken up by the World Bank and others.