Sustainable Cities Water Index

Sustainable Cities Water Index

This report seeks to expand on our annual Sustainable Cities Index to focus solely on water and identify which city is harnessing its water assets for the greatest long term advantage. It is our hope that city leaders find this ranking to be a valuable tool in helping them to think of water as an opportunity and as a resource for economic development while also meeting the critical needs and safety of their residents and the environment.

The overall index examines the water sustainability of 50 cities from 31 countries across all continents of the world. Each of the cities included have distinctive water relationships that helped shape their urban character and define their commercial identity and competitiveness. The cities are ranked according to not only how sustainably they manage and maintain water, but also against their natural risk and vulnerability across three pillars of water sustainability – resiliency, efficiency and quality. Download the 2016 report or dive into the findings below.

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Withstanding natural disasters and unforeseen shortages

A water resilient city is well prepared to overcome the challenges associated with both too little as well as too much water. It protects its citizens against disasters such as flooding and drought, while ensuring that water-related services continue undisrupted. As a result of climate change, soil subsidence, coastal erosion and urbanization, extreme weather events and water scarcity are becoming more commonplace in many cities. Furthermore, the Index highlights a significant gap between the top performers and the rest of the world. Check out the resiliency sub-index.


Major cities worldwide have now placed resiliency planning on the agenda, an initial step towards becoming more sustainable.

US cities underperform in the field of resiliency - many are hampered by low water reserves and high water stress.

The presence of parks and green space – creating storm water storage capacity and helping to battle the urban heat island effect – helps make cities more resilient.

The Dutch cities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, although both below sea level, are the top two performers on the water resiliency sub-index. These locations are well-known for their excellent water management and robust flood protection practices.


Effectively managing water supply

Clean, usable water is an extremely valuable resource that is essential to the health of a city’s citizens and economy. Efficient and controlled management of this resource is, therefore, vital for service continuity in both the production and distribution of water, minimizing cost of service, and preserving this resource for future generations. Low instances of leakage, as well as accountability in terms of water usage in the form of metering, are key to ensuring a city’s water systems run efficiently. Check out the efficiency sub-index.


While multiple cities boast full access to safe and secure drinking water - Nairobi and Johannesburg have the lowest percentage of access in the indexed cities.

Wastewater generated in our homes and offices that has not been contaminated by sewage, such as that used for cleaning or bathing, is known as greywater.

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

Copenhagen tops the efficiency ranking. The Danish capital boasts the lowest level of leakage and a high instance of metering.

Efficient and controlled management of this resource is vital for service continuity in both the production and distribution of water.


Providing a clean and healthy water supply

Cities in the developed world have historically improved their prosperity and economies only after adequately addressing water quality and sanitation, making them more competitive. Cities in developing nations will need to improve water quality to become prosperous, sustainable urban centers. In the Index, water quality is arguably the area where performance is highest, with many cities having recognized its critical role in improving quality of life, and thus have made significant investment. However, it remains a challenge for a number of developing cities such as growing cities in Africa and Asia. Check out the quality sub-index.


Faced with limited access to clean and safe water resources, in addition to economic slowdown, inadequate or insufficient water can cause food shortages and even political conflicts that further exacerbate the economic and competitive position of the affected city.

The drinking water indicator in Sustainable Cities Water Index comes from the World Health Organization and UNICEF's Joint Water Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation - Measuring the percentage of households with safe and secure drinking water.

Poor water quality is the biggest challenge facing Latin American cities with issues around wastewater treatment and sanitation hampering progress.

There is little difference between many mature cities when it comes to water quality, although cities in the US perform better than most.

Singapore tops the index in treated wastewater while emerging cities have yet to implement the necessary technologies.

Questions about the Sustainable Cities Water Index?


John Batten

Global Cities Director +852 2911 2000 Ask me a question
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