Cities across the globe face an alarming rise in water risks and must urgently invest in enhanced resilience, according to new WWF scenario analysis

Posted on
02 November 2020
  • 100 cities facing the greatest rise in water risks by 2050 are home to 350 million people 
  • Almost half the cities are in China, with other hotspots in South Asia, Middle East, South America and Africa
  • India dominates both current and future lists of cities with the highest overall water risk 
2nd Nov 2020: With water crises already plaguing many of the world’s cities, WWF’s new water risk scenarios estimate that hundreds of millions of people in cities across the globe could face dramatically increased water risks – unless urgent action is taken to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
According to the scenarios in the WWF Water Risk Filter, the 100 cities that are expected to suffer the greatest rise in water risk by 2050 are home to at least 350 million people as well as nationally and globally important economies. Globally, populations in areas of high-water risk could rise from 17% in 2020 to 51% by 2050.
The list includes cities such as Beijing, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Mecca and Rio de Janeiro.  China accounts for almost half the cities. About 30 Indian cities including Jaipur, Indore, Amritsar, Pune, Srinagar, Kolkata, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kozhikode and Vishakhapatnam among many others have been identified as cities that will face increasing water risks in the next few decades.
Dr. Sejal Worah, Programme Director, WWF India, said “The future of India’s environment lies in its cities. As India rapidly urbanizes, cities will be at the forefront both for India’s growth and for sustainability. For cities to break away from the current vicious loop of flooding and water scarcity, nature based solutions like restoration of urban watersheds and wetlands could offer solutions. This is our chance to re-evolve and re-imagine what the future of the cities could be.”
The Smart Cities initiative in India could offer an integrated urban water management framework combining urban planning, ecosystem restoration and wetland conservation for building future- ready, water smart and climate resilient cities. Urban watersheds and wetlands are critical for maintaining the water balance of a city, flood cushioning, micro-climate regulation and protecting its biodiversity. The future of our cities and sustainability lies in the efficiency in closing the loop by integrating water supply, demand management.
“Cities across the world have paid a high price in recent years due to worsening water risks.  From acute risks that have seen historic floods to chronic risks that have seen their taps running dry, the water challenges cities are facing are only going to increase in the coming decades because the impacts of climate change will primarily be felt through water,” said Alexis Morgan, WWF Global Water Stewardship Lead.
Multi-stakeholder engagement and ownership involving local communities is key in creating and conserving sustainable water infrastructure and rejuvenating urban freshwater systems. There are many initiatives across the country that can be scaled up where multi-stakeholder groups have come together and revived wetlands such as Bashettihalli wetland in Bengaluru and the Sirpur Lake in Indore. Urban planning and wetland conservation needs to be integrated to ensure zero loss of freshwater systems in the urban areas.
While improving urban water infrastructure and cutting water consumption will help reduce water risks, Nature-based Solutions – such as restoring degraded watersheds, reconnecting rivers to their floodplains, and restoring or creating urban wetlands – are critical to avoiding the worst-case scenario and to safeguarding economies and human wellbeing. Public funds will be needed in some cases, but bankable water solutions also offer effective ways to invest in projects that can enhance the health of freshwater ecosystems, reduce water risk and generate returns.
Private sector companies and financial institutions also have a vital role to play in reducing water risk to their operations and assets as well as cities, which are the main engines of sustainable economic growth. By working together with cities, they can collectively distribute the load of enhancing basin level resilience.
Launched in October, the new climate and socio-economic pathway-based scenarios for 2030 and 2050 are available in the WWF Water Risk Filter – the leading online tool for assessing, valuing and responding to water risk. The scenarios are aligned to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations and can help companies, and cities, better understand future water risks and drive more effective corporate action on climate and water resilience.
“Companies, cities, and investors – even ministries of finance, are finally waking up to the growing water risks facing the economy and the need to take urgent action to reduce their risks and tackle shared water challenges,” said Morgan. “By harnessing the new scenarios in the Water Risk Filter, companies, cities and investors can better assess, respond and plan for climate and water resilience – helping to reduce water risks to their own operations as well as cities.”
For more information:
Rituparna Sengupta, Associate Director, Marketing Communication, WWF India
Komal Chaudhury, Manager, Campaigns and Communication, WWF India
80108 76699;
The full list of cities is attached here
The folder contains the 100 cities facing the greatest increase in water risks as well as the top 30 cities on each continent. There are also separate lists of the top 30 for China and India.
About WWF Water Risk Filter
The WWF Water Risk Filter is a practical online tool that enables companies and investors to explore, assess, value and respond to water risks worldwide. With the integration of new climate and socio-economic pathway-based scenarios of water risk, the tool now enables forward-looking risk assessment that can help evaluate and inform long-term resilience planning and strategy, as recommended by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD).
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