Water quality, resiliency & efficiency: European cities rule the waves

How well do European cities address their water challenges?

Frank Goossensen

Director Water Europe +31 6 27 06 01 54 Ask me a question

  • Arcadis Sustainable Cities Water Index: European cities dominate ranking with 8 cities in top 10; 
  • Rotterdam tops ranking as the world’s most sustainable urban water city followed by Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin and Brussels; 
  • US cities amongst most susceptible in developed world to higher flood risks due to natural disasters; 
  • World cities of New York, London and Hong Kong have greater water vulnerability with none featured in overall top ten. 

Most cities across the world have are in need of greater investment and prioritization to improve their resiliency to extreme weather events and unforeseen water shortages, according to Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Water Index

The index, conducted by Arcadis in partnership with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) explores the three aspects that make up robust (resiliency), effective (efficiency) and healthy (quality) waterscapes to develop an indicative ranking of 50 leading cities. The report finds that most cities need greater investment when it comes to their ability to withstand natural disasters and drinking water shortages, with climate adaptation and resiliency being the most pressing issue for future city leaders. 

Well-established European cities lead the overall rankings, taking eight of the first ten places. Rotterdam leads the world, followed by Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin. The Dutch cities also lead the resiliency sub-ranking due, in no small part, to their generations of commitment to managing and planning of coastal flooding and high water reserves. 

Efficiency is the big issue for UK cities. All three sit behind some developing-economy counterparts due to low levels of reused wastewater and lack of water meters. 

Meanwhile, Berlin is amongst the most consistent overall performing cities across all categories. The German capital is also one of the most resilient cities in the world due, in part, to its low susceptibility to natural disasters. 

Brussels ranks fifth in the ranking, scoring fourth on water quality, sixth on resiliency and ninth on resiliency.

Overall top and bottom ten cities in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Water Index:

Top Ten

Other European Cities

Bottom Ten

1. Rotterdam

12. Paris

41. Doha

2. Copenhagen

19. Madrid

42. Jeddah

3. Amsterdam

21. London

43. Mexico City

4. Berlin

28. Rome

44. Rio de Janeiro

5. Brussels

29. Moscow

45. Johannesburg

6. Toronto

46. Nairobi

7. Frankfurt

47. Jakarta

8. Sydney

48. Manila

9. Birmingham

49. Mumbai

10. Manchester

50. New Dehli

The full rankings can be viewed here.

John Batten, Arcadis Global Director of Cities and Water, commented: “Great cities are defined and illuminated by the water that surrounds them or flows through them, and they will continue to be over the coming decades. Water demand is rising, aquifers are being depleted and the threat of extreme weather is increasingly real, meaning that cities can be overburdened with too much water or stressed without enough. This report highlights the areas of opportunity for cities, to inform decision-making around how they use and manage water, hopefully making them more sustainable economically, environmentally and for the benefit of their people. Cities which carefully and creatively use their water assets for strategic urban advantage will ultimately be more livable, safe and competitive.”

Resiliency sub-index
Withstanding natural disasters and unforeseen shortages

Top ten

Bottom ten

1. Rotterdam

41. Tokyo

2. Amsterdam

42. Santiago

3. Copenhagen

43. Hong Kong

4. Berlin

44. San Francisco

5. Moscow

45. Riyadh

6. Brussels

46. New Delhi

7. Johannesburg

47. Jeddah

8. Birmingham

48. Los Angeles

9. Toronto

49. Mumbai

10. Sydney

50. Manila

Quality sub-index
Providing a clean and healthy water supply

Top ten

Bottom ten

1. Toronto

41. Wuhan

2. Chicago

42. Dubai

3. Philadelphia

43. Abu Dhabi

4. Brussels

44. Mexico City

5. Paris

45. Jakarta

6. Boston

46. New Delhi

7. New York

47. Johannesburg

8. Birmingham

48. Mumbai

9. Manchester

49. Nairobi

10. Houston

50. Manila

Efficiency sub-index
Effectively managing their water supply

Top ten

Bottom ten

1. Copenhagen

41. Manila

2. Los Angeles

42. Moscow

3. Berlin

43. Buenos Aires

4. Sydney

44. Jeddah

5. Melbourne

45. Riyadh

6. Tokyo

46. Jakarta

7. San Francisco

47. Nairobi

8. Frankfurt

48. Doha

9.  Brussels

49. Mumbai

10. Toronto

50. New Delhi

Global trends:

North America

No US city makes it into the index’s overall top ten, with the East Coast hubs of Washington DC and New York performing significantly better than their West Coast counterparts. Cities in California perform the least well out of all those in the United States, hampered mainly by their difficulties with resiliency, such as a higher susceptibility to drought and natural disasters.

However, generally speaking, cities in North America tend to outperform most other locations when it comes to the quality of their water. In fact, Toronto, Chicago and Philadelphia take each of the top three spaces when it comes to ensuring a healthy and clean water supply.


It is a rather mixed picture for Asian cities when it comes to their water sustainability. While the four developing economy cities of Jakarta, Manila, Mumbai and New Delhi finish last in the overall ranking.

However, Tokyo has one of the best efficiency scores in the world despite lack of wastewater reuse, reserve water and greenspace. Furthermore, Singapore does well with the elements over which it has control such as leakage, treatment and metering, despite its geographical location meaning that it struggles with reserves and flood risk. 

Latin America

Latin American cities underperform when it comes to their overall water sustainability with each location featuring relatively low in the index due to geographic vulnerabilities to flooding and drought.

Efficiency is a particular issue for Buenos Aires. The Argentinian capital has the lowest instance of water metering in the world, while despite its issues with the likes of leakage due to aging water infrastructure, Mexico City performs better than most other Latin American cities for efficiency due, in part, to its water pricing.

Middle East

When it comes to water, cities in the Middle East have some distance to go to rival their counterparts in more mature markets, with even the regional powerhouses of Doha and Dubai featuring in the lower end of the overall index.

However, although lacking in other areas, Jeddah and Riyadh reuse an exceptional amount of their wastewater, registering the joint highest score globally along with Los Angeles.

One area where Middle Eastern cities would benefit significantly is by finding a way to improve their water reserves, with each city in the region ranking low largely due to their geographical location and increased urbanization.

Questions about this article

Frank Goossensen

Director Water Europe +31 6 27 06 01 54 Ask me a question

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Sustainable Cities Water Index
Sustainble Cities Water Index

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