United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

City Water Resilience Approach (CWRA)


    City Water Resilience Approach (CWRA) enables cities, regions, and water companies to take a holistic view of their water systems, inform decision-makers of a strategy to take forward, and collaboratively build resilience to local water challenges. It provides a detailed step-wise methodology coupled with tools and resources that guide cities to bring a wide range of stakeholders together to share their perspectives; diagnosing what helps and hinders the water system to function when faced with shocks and stresses, and collaboratively develop and implement a water resilience action plan. CWRA establishes a process for us all to shape a better world where we are improving public health, enhancing communities’ resilience to climate change and other water-related risks, and creating natural and social value through water that results in a more inclusive and sustainable society. It provides a holistic lens that prompts stakeholders to consider the hydrological context, including the basins, the built infrastructure, and the socio-political and economical context as well as risks and resilience goals of their water system. In addition to ‘hard engineering’ infrastructure projects, the CWRA promotes nature-based solutions to manage water challenges and supports a range of ‘soft’ solutions, including improvements to system governance (planning, policy, coordination, finance, regulation, monitoring, management arrangements, and service delivery, monitoring), improved communication and demand management. The approach is designed for broad public use and to publicize resilience concepts, measures, design approaches, and investment guidance.
    The approach was initially based on research in eight cities, engaging with 700 stakeholders. There are two key tools that help facilitate the transition from one step to the other:
    1) CWRA's OurWater is a digital tool that improves governance and knowledge-sharing between stakeholders in the city water system. It helps to improve water governance through coordination and knowledge sharing between actors working in the water system.
    2) CWRA through its assessment and planning tool, the City Water Resilience Framework (CWRF), supports city stakeholders to gather information in a structured way and assess current practices, providing cities with a comprehensive, credible, and technically robust means to assess and monitor their water resilience to inform decision-making. This framework will help structure cities’ thinking around water resilience, by guiding assessment across four critical areas of building water resilience, which is ‘Leadership & Strategy’, ‘Planning and Finance’, ‘Infrastructure and Ecosystem’ and ‘Health and Well-being with twelve clearly defined goals, 62 qualitative and 40 quantitative indicators.

    The CWRA is built around five key principles:
    • Inclusive and transparent: The workshops bring together diverse stakeholders to develop a shared understanding of the resilience challenge and innovative projects with multiple benefits.
    • Systems-based: The system mapping allows cities to take account of the cascading failures through infrastructure systems and with other systems.
    • Holistic: The City Water Resilience Framework includes leadership and strategy, planning and finance, infrastructure and ecosystems, and personal, household, and community resilience
    • Action-orientated: The workshops build consensus and support to sustain long-term buy-in and implementation.
    • Scalable and global: The Approach is scalable from towns through to megacities.

    Expected Impact

    Water crises - too much, too little, and polluted water are already affecting people’s health and wellbeing, devastating economies, and threatening lives and livelihoods in many countries around the world. Due to the combined impact of climate change, human action, and population growth, a recent UN-endorsed project estimates that global demand for freshwater will exceed supply by 40% in 2030 and many cities. Urban water resilience is fundamental to address the water challenges at the local level. It will further help achieve several SDGs, for example, SDG 6, 11, and 13. CWRA guides cities to monitor and make better planning, investments decision in the sector, contributing to improved WASH services (targets 6.1, 6.2) linked to ensuring access to basic services (11.1), municipal and waste management (11.6), protecting the health of people, reducing the risk of water-borne diseases (3.1 to 3.9); addressing water scarcity (6.4) linked to reduced impact of water-related disasters (11.5), promote green and public spaces (11.7), ecosystem protection (6.6), support resilience through the flood, and drought protection (11.5, 13.1); and improved capacity on adaptation, impact reduction and early warning (13.3). These are a few interlinkages among the SDGs, among others. CWRF assessment provides a comprehensive picture of a wide range of factors that impact water management and service provision in cities. Cape Town explored the key themes first presented in its new Water Strategy, which makes a firm commitment to be a water-sensitive city by 2040. Action developed through CWRF provides a pathway for the city stakeholders to achieve these goals. In Miami, it has helped strengthen its Resilient305 Strategy, particularly the water dimension. Currently, the tool is being adapted to implement through Training of local implementing agencies, remote support, working post-Covid pandemic. Exploration to implement widely in Low-medium income countries (LMIC) as well as different geographic challenges (conflict zone, fragile contexts, resource challenges, topography, etc.). CWRA is included in the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) Water Action Track, which calls for a resilience approach to tackle climate disaster in cities. Under this initiative, CWRA will be applied in three African cities in 2021. These efforts are also part of the 1000 CAN initiative (Accelerating Climate Adaptation in Cities by GCA, WRI, R-Cities, and UN-Habitat) announced at the Climate Adaptation Summit in January 2021.


    Arup, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Resilient Cities Network (RCN), with support from World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation, Resilience Shift, University of Massachusetts, OECD, Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, World Resources Institute and engagement with eight partner cities: Cape Town, Mexico City, Miami, Amman, Thessaloniki, Manchester, Hull and Rotterdam.

    Goal 6

    Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

    Goal 6


    By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all


    Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services


    By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations


    Proportion of population using (a) safely managed sanitation services and (b) a hand-washing facility with soap and water


    By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally


    Proportion of domestic and industrial wastewater flows safely treated


    Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality


    By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

    Change in water-use efficiency over time


    Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources


    By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate


    Degree of integrated water resources management 


    Proportion of transboundary basin area with an operational arrangement for water cooperation


    By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

    Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time


    By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies

    Amount of water- and sanitation-related official development assistance that is part of a government-coordinated spending plan


    Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management


    Proportion of local administrative units with established and operational policies and procedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitation management

    Goal 11

    Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

    Goal 11


    By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums


    Proportion of urban population living in slums, informal settlements or inadequate housing


    By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons

    Proportion of population that has convenient access to public transport, by sex, age and persons with disabilities


    By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries

    Ratio of land consumption rate to population growth rate


    Proportion of cities with a direct participation structure of civil society in urban planning and management that operate regularly and democratically


    Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage


    Total per capita expenditure on the preservation, protection and conservation of all cultural and natural heritage, by source of funding (public, private), type of heritage (cultural, natural) and level of government (national, regional, and local/municipal)


    By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations


    Number of deaths, missing persons and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population


    Direct economic loss attributed to disasters in relation to global domestic product (GDP)


    (a) Damage to critical infrastructure and (b) number of disruptions to basic services, attributed to disasters


    By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management


    Proportion of municipal solid waste collected and managed in controlled facilities out of total municipal waste generated, by cities


    Annual mean levels of fine particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5 and PM10) in cities (population weighted)


    By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities

    Average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use for all, by sex, age and persons with disabilities


    Proportion of persons victim of physical or sexual harassment, by sex, age, disability status and place of occurrence, in the previous 12 months


    Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning


    Number of countries that have national urban policies or regional development plans that (a) respond to population dynamics; (b) ensure balanced territorial development; and (c) increase local fiscal space


    By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels


    Number of countries that adopt and implement national disaster risk reduction strategies in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030


    Proportion of local governments that adopt and implement local disaster risk reduction strategies in line with national disaster risk reduction strategies


    Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials

    Goal 3

    Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

    Goal 3


    By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births

    Maternal mortality ratio


    Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel


    By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births

    Under-five mortality rate


    Neonatal mortality rate


    By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases


    Number of new HIV infections per 1,000 uninfected population, by sex, age and key populations


    Tuberculosis incidence per 100,000 population


    Malaria incidence per 1,000 population


    Hepatitis B incidence per 100,000 population


    Number of people requiring interventions against neglected tropical diseases


    By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being

    Mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease


    Suicide mortality rate


    Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol


    Coverage of treatment interventions (pharmacological, psychosocial and rehabilitation and aftercare services) for substance use disorders


    Alcohol per capita consumption (aged 15 years and older) within a calendar year in litres of pure alcohol


    By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents

    Death rate due to road traffic injuries


    By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes


    Proportion of women of reproductive age (aged 15-49 years) who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods


    Adolescent birth rate (aged 10-14 years; aged 15-19 years) per 1,000 women in that age group


    Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all


    Coverage of essential health services


    Proportion of population with large household expenditures on health as a share of total household expenditure or income


    By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination

    Mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution


    Mortality rate attributed to unsafe water, unsafe sanitation and lack of hygiene (exposure to unsafe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All (WASH) services)


    Mortality rate attributed to unintentional poisoning


    Strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate

    Age-standardized prevalence of current tobacco use among persons aged 15 years and older


    Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all


    Proportion of the target population covered by all vaccines included in their national programme

    Total net official development assistance to medical research and basic health sectors

    Proportion of health facilities that have a core set of relevant essential medicines available and affordable on a sustainable basis


    Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States

    Health worker density and distribution


    Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks


    International Health Regulations (IHR) capacity and health emergency preparedness


    Percentage of bloodstream infections due to selected antimicrobial-resistant organisms

    Goal 13

    Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

    Goal 13


    Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries


    Number of deaths, missing persons and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population


    Number of countries that adopt and implement national disaster risk reduction strategies in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030


    Proportion of local governments that adopt and implement local disaster risk reduction strategies in line with national disaster risk reduction strategies


    Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning


    Number of countries with nationally determined contributions, long-term strategies, national adaptation plans and adaptation communications, as reported to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


    Total greenhouse gas emissions per year


    Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning


    Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development are mainstreamed in (a) national education policies; (b) curricula; (c) teacher education; and (d) student assessment


    Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible


    Amounts provided and mobilized in United States dollars per year in relation to the continued existing collective mobilization goal of the $100 billion commitment through to 2025


    Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities



    Number of least developed countries and small island developing States with nationally determined contributions, long-term strategies, national adaptation plans and adaptation communications, as reported to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

    Name Description

    Co-creation of CWRA through fieldwork in five cities (Cape Town, Mexico City, Miami, Amman), remote engagement with three cities (Thessaloniki, Manchester, and Rotterdam); Literature review of water and urban resilience elements and approaches and tools

    Literature review on governance and water resilience, Analysis of data and qualitative and quantitative indicators developed, CWRA User guide / methodology development, Facilitation guides and workshop methodology

    Validation Workshop with cities and global experts at the Global Knowledge Exchange, London

    Piloting of CWRA in Cape Town and Miami

    In-kind contribution
    Eight partner cities (£240k); Steering Group Members (£100k); Two partner cities (£100k) during the period of 2019-2020
    Staff / Technical expertise
    Resilience and Climate policy expert; Water Resilience; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Water Resources expertise; Public Policy expert; Sustainable Solution expert; Public Health Engineers; Business Planning and Regulation; Infrastructure
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    Action Network
    SDG Acceleration Actions
    01 January 2018 (start date)
    31 December 2022 (date of completion)
    Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Arup, Resilient Cities Network (RCN)
    1. Global
    Geographical coverage
    Stockholm, Sweden
    South Africa
    South Africa
    United States of America
    United States of America
    Contact Information

    Alejandro Jiménez, Programme Director, Water and Sanitation, SIWI