This content was originally published on The Resilience Shift website. The Resilience Shift, a 5-year programme supported by Lloyd’s Register Foundation and hosted by Arup, transitioned at the end of 2021 to become Resilience Rising. You can read more about The Resilience Shift’s journey and the transition to Resilience Rising here.

In this guest blog, Chris Hughes, drought specialist, discusses some of the ways cities might better prepare for drought and resilience to water scarcity.

In 2018 The World Bank and the United Nations warned that 40% of the world is currently affected by water scarcity.

The report, Making Every Drop Count, states that around 2.5 billion people – 36% of the world’s population – live in water-scarce regions where more than 20% of global GDP is produced. “By 2050, more than half of the world’s population””and about half of global grain production””will be at risk due to water stress”, it adds.

Around 90% of financing for disaster risk mitigation is directed at emergency response and reconstruction, leaving a shortfall in preparatory measures and resilience. The report adds that: “while US$106 trillion is available through different funds worldwide, only 1.6 percent is invested in infrastructure and even less in initiatives to increase resilience”.

The impact of drought and water scarcity

Droughts can have potentially-devastating social and economic impacts on cities that are unprepared.

A recent example being Cape Town, South Africa where a city of almost four million has faced three years of drought during which winter rains failed to materialise.

In January 2018, it was predicted that, by April, Cape Town would reach Day Zero, when it would be forced to turn off the taps.

Implementing one of the most radical water conservation campaigns in history gave Cape Town more time to respond to the drought.

Drought in the northern hemisphere

In 2018, the United Kingdom and much of the northern hemisphere experienced significant periods of high demand for water, driven by prolonged dry weather and high temperatures. This resulted in drought in some areas, leading to hosepipe bans and water control measures.

The UK Met Office latest climate projections (UKCP18) suggest we can expect more of the same in years to come.

In the UK, drought planning processes are focussed on municipal water supply. For example, Welsh Water’s drought plan helps them to secure resilience to extreme and severe weather for their 3 million customers. The role of regional planning and engagement with third parties is also key and governments are keen to understand the demand for water in other sectors, which is a significant stepping stone in multi-sector water resilience.

Some of the UK drought planning and wider water resources planning techniques are among the more innovative in the world and provide robust methods to support water companies in understanding their water stress risks and develop appropriate action.

Facilitating engagement across sectors

Globally there is a need for robust planning and wider engagement across sectors to achieve multi sector resilience to the challenges of water security.

This includes the use of new predictive techniques and digital tools to assess a full and realistic range of possible droughts, including the impacts of climate change, and demonstrate the outcomes, mitigation and trade-offs associated with each.

These enable water planners and city leaders to make timely and informed decisions about responses and investments that make their cities and regions smarter and more resilient to drought. This holistic approach supports the International Water Association (IWA) Principles for Water Wise Cities.

Building on work with the Resilience Shift and SIWI on the City Water Resilience Approach, and in collaboration with HR Wallingford and their international reputation in Drought Risk assessment, Arup is developing an approach to help cities better prepare for drought by:

  • Facilitating multi stakeholder engagement and accountability in drought planning beyond traditional “˜actors’, encouraging new ideas and innovation.
  • Ensuring the needs of wider sectors are included in drought resilience planning processes.
  • Integrating wider sectoral and societal “˜value outcomes’ in drought risk assessment and planning.
  • Developing better “˜predictive awareness’ in stakeholders, “˜putting people first’.
  • Supporting the UN SDGs by delivering sustainable integrated water security.

We’ll be further developing this work in collaboration with our partners and aiming to pilot our approach in several locations and projects in 2019.

Chris spoke about the work of his Arup team recently at the IWA Conference on Efficient Water Management in Manila in January this year and referenced the City Water Resilience Approach and its online collaboration tool. You can see his presentation below.


With thanks to Chris for his blog.

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