Water plays a vital role in shaping smart and livable cities. Effective water management can have make a difference for cities that prioritize health, climate resilience, and overall sustainability. The integration of digitalization not only connects water management to the smart city agenda but also boosts transparency, innovation, and liveability.

Urban population growth puts water at risk

Currently, more than half of the world’s population resides in cities, and the United Nations anticipates this figure will further increase to 70 percent by 2050. Water is indispensable for sustaining modern urban life and driving economic growth across various sectors. As per the 2020 World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report, water-related challenges such as extreme weather events, natural disasters, droughts, and climate change adaptation failures are among the most significant global risks to human well-being and prosperity.

Balancing the provision of essential services for residents and industries while safeguarding local water resources is a central challenge for urban water managers. This must go hand in hand with the planning and management of cities that are resilient, healthy, and appealing places to live.

Urban water managers worldwide share these common challenges. In cities like Copenhagen, the host of the 2021 International Water Association’s (IWA) World Water Congress & Exhibition, and in other Danish cities, water managers are tirelessly dedicated to improving cities, and they are committed to sharing their experiences with cities worldwide. In Denmark, water governance, technology development, and daily operations are anchored in high levels of trust, engagement, and enforcement of regulations to ensure public legitimacy. Over the past five decades, extensive efforts have been made to streamline and advance the water sector, to provide environmental benefits, enhanced efficiency, and effectiveness, and support for sustainability initiatives. And in recent years, to also contribute to an overall green transformation of society in a manner which promotes economic growth and employment. employment.

Megatrends shaping the water sector

As we entered the 2020s, three significant megatrends are shaping the global water sector:

  1. Sustainability Drive: The call for sustainability reverberates worldwide, with many of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) directly or indirectly depend on finding sustainable water solutions. A dedicated SDG for clean water and sanitation underscores the critical role of water in the vision of Smart and Livable Cities.
  2. Emphasis on Livability through Blue-Green Infrastructure: A growing focus on multifunctional blue-green infrastructure aligns with the IWA’s Principles for Water-Wise Cities, offering manifold benefits such as improved climate resilience, reduced sewer overflows, enhanced urban amenities, and lower environmental impacts of water infrastructure.
  3. Digital Transformation: Digitalization is revolutionizing water systems, turning them into dynamic, integrated units that can adapt to various situations. This transformation aligns the water sector with the broader smart cities agenda, fostering greater citizen involvement and potentially making the water sector more efficient, innovative, and sustainable.