Urban challenges

Demographic growth and the impacts of climate changes have contributed to accelerate the urban expansion over the last decades: half of the world population now lives in cities. This evolution contributed to the net increase of the proportion of urban people without access to safe water and to deteriorate urban water infrastructures. AquaFed repeatedly called for urgent and concrete action on water and sanitation for a better urban future.

Year after year, UN statistics have been showing global trend for progress of access to “improved” water sources. These findings hide a much more diverse reality. Whereas access to “improved” water sources resulted from a significant improvement in the rural half of the world over the last years, access to water in the urban half have been significantly worsening in the same time.

Urban challenges in Chile

This is mainly due to the fast lighting urban population growth, particularly in megacities of emerging countries where expansion is increasing at a steady pace, which is requiring more fresh water resources to answer increasing basic needs, domestic activities and economic performance.

Official UN data show that water infrastructure developments are far from sufficient to meet the basic needs of an increasing urban population: the number of people without access to water is increasing in cities. This comes with a higher risk of water pollution and waste, particularly in emerging countries that doesn’t have the necessary technology for managing it efficiently and safely.

On the other hand, exponential population growth is also straining water infrastructure in cities, which are continuously deteriorating: most of the current services are outdated, overused and underserviced as investment isn’t keeping pace.

Since 2010, AquaFed has repeatedly warned about this continuous damage that is causing:

  • Health and safety risks, as people are sick and unable to work.
  • Billions in waste, loosing water and energy resources.
  • Business disruption, mainly due to interruption of services
  • Higher costs, as repair and replacement costs are increasing over time.

In line with current discussions in the perspective of HABITAT III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urbanization, AquaFed is calling on the urgent need for acceleration of drinking water and sanitation programs to improve living standards and economic productivity in cities.

As an agent of change, AquaFed is also supporting recent investments and initiatives which are contributing to the development of cities for a positive and sustainable urban future. Each dollar invested in water infrastructure is generating from 15 to 25$, either within the water industry or in related industries.


1/ Sub-Sahara

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where water infrastructure in cities are losing the most ground:

  • According to UN statistics, the number of people living in cities in Sub-Saharan Africa that have no access to tapwater at home or in the immediate vicinity has increased by 57% (from 134 million to 211 million) between 2000 and 2010.
  • This increase over 10 years represents 9% of the current African population. 

2/ Rural Progress

Fortunately, progress is continuing in the rural half of the world. Between 2000 and 2008:

  • The number of people living in rural fields who lack access to an improved water source or a water tap in their home or immediate vicinity has decreased by an estimated 212 million
  • The number of those who lack access to basic sanitation facilities, such as toilets, has also decreased by 198 million.  

3/ Some Resources

AquaFed Press Release: 2010 “Access to Drinking Water is deteriorating in the urban half of the world where rapid urbanisation is outpacing public services.”  (pdf, annex)



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