The challenges of urbanisation are no longer something that urban dwellers have to contend with alone. In the contemporary society, communities living in rural areas can feel the effects of urbanisation as well.
The scarcity of clean fresh water is just one example of how the urban population is exploiting natural resources, resulting in the destruction of the ecological balance of both urban and rural areas. As environmentalist would readily tell, the rising demand for water is among the major reasons responsible for the scarcity of the commodity.
This is especially because the increasing urban population is demanding more water for drinking, and general sanitation requirements, while the rural population requires huge supplies of water for farming-related requirements, and human settlement development (Eric et al, 2010, p. 1; Gleitsmann, Kroma and Steenhuis, 2007; Sanusi, 2010, p.1). Today, the renewable supply of water is no longer guaranteed since the unquenchable demand for the commodity may soon outstrip nature’s capacity to replenish water sources.
According to Power (2008, p.1), “fresh water is the ultimate renewable resource.” However, humankind is using and polluting water faster that the hydrologic cycle is able to replenish the resource. The water situation is even worse with the unpredictable weather conditions, which have seen to crops failing, groundwater disappearing, and rivers trickling much less with each passing year. The situation is so bad that some rivers that used to drain to the sea no longer do so (Power, 2008, p.1).
Unfortunately, the water crisis is replicated in all the world’s six continents. This paper will specifically evaluate how water scarcity has affected communities in Kinshasa, Congo and Colleambally, Australia. The author was encouraged by the FOP group members to pursue this communication project on the belief that it would make a significant contribution to existing knowledge on water management.
Sustainable urbanisation challenges: Kinshasa, Congo
Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo is today an example of what most cities have had to contend with in the pursuit of sustainable urban development. Tucked in one of Africa’s resource-rich countries, Kinshasa has experienced an extraordinary urban growth, which has led to urban housing deficit, increased demand for water, electricity, and basic services such as roads, hospitals, and schools (Eric, Shuoyo & Qin, 2010, p.242).
The extent of urbanisation’s effect on water does not just end with its increased use; rather, Eric et al. (2010, p. 242) note that the expansion of informal settlements around Kinshasa is being done on riverbeds and forests areas, something that complicates the water situation even further.
The destructions of forests lead to less rainfall and extended drought periods. Consequently, the rain-reliant agriculture in the country suffers. In addition, the urban population’s invasion of wetlands and riverbanks block the natural waterways, thus causing upstream floods when the rains eventually fall (Eric et al., 2010, p.242).
Considering the effect that urbanisation in Kinshasa has had on the bigger ecology of the Congo, it is little wonder that international organizations are focusing on improving the basic infrastructure in the city, and other similar cities in the larger Sub-Saharan Africa.
Specifically, Eric et al. (2010, p. 244) observe that the World Bank, UNDP, UNFPA, and UN-Habitat are among agencies that seek to develop urban infrastructure targeting the enhancement of water supply, water drainage, sewerage and urban roadways in the region. The overall objective of such initiatives is to ensure that Kinshasa’s water supply is safe, and that urban settlement does not create conditions for floods, gullies, soil-erosion, and landslides for the agricultural land in the rural areas.
Sustainable urbanisation challenges: Coleambally, Australia
Opened in 1968, Coleambally is arguably the newest town in New South Wales, Australia. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007), the town, which is located at the fringes of the Coleambally irrigation area, had 658 people in the 2006 census. With the prevailing scarcity of water, Coleambally has to suffer water shortages, and this has had negative effects on the irrigation fields.
Notably, even a city with a small population like Coleambally has to face water use restrictions as two-thirds of the area’s water supply is directed to agriculture (Power, 2008, p. 7). When water use priorities between human sustenance and agriculture have to be made however, the latter always takes a backseat. This in turn affects agriculture because as Power (2008, p.8) observes, “The economics of food production have always been based on the ready access to cheap water.”
In Coleambally, the limited water supply is not an entirely new concept. As Power (2008, p.8) observes, farmers in the irrigation sector in the area now realize the need to grow more crops for every drop of irrigation water spilt. Moreover, farmers in the area are ready to check for leakages, seepages and faulty meters, which have in the past contributed to a significant amount of water loss.
Provision of water in recent years
The world has about 360 quintillion gallons of water, which “evaporates, coalesces in clouds, falls as rain, seeps into the earth and emerges in springs to feed rivers and lakes…”( Power, 2008, p. 1). Unfortunately, 3 percent of the world’s water is fit for human use.
The remaining percentage is salty water found in the oceans hence rendering it useless to humankind. According to Gleitsmann et al. (2007, p.5), rain and groundwater have acted as the primary water sources for most people. In the arid and semi-arid areas, sources such as boreholes, wells, and streams are considered vital water sources (Sanusi (2010, p.8).
Notably urban development is partly to blame for the water scarcity as aquifers, rivers, dams and lakes are drying up because of the increased water demand from the largely urban water requirements. Specifically, Power (2008, p. 1) notes that urban areas have “more homes, more businesses, more water-intensive products and processes…” and all these could simply surpass the water supply available in the world.
Infrastructure and its relation to the water problems
Proper planning and implementation of infrastructure projects affect the management of water resources in both urban and rural areas. In Indonesia for example, Guggenheim (2010, p. 23) notes that a contractor’s ignorance to design requirements for the construction of culverts made farmers on both sides lose their crops.
Guggenheim (2010, p.23) observes that the road created a barrier in the natural waterways, which led to floods on one side, and drought on the other. If the culverts were in place however, the water would have flowed from one side of the road to the other, thus creating suitable conditions for the crops to grow.
In Kinshasa, the situation is not much different. In fact, Kinshasa could be much worse considering that the city’s infrastructure lacks bridges, sewers, and water mains that can support the more than 10 million people (Eric et al., 2010, p. 246). The lack of such facilities makes rainwater turn the city into a flood zone. Even worse is the fact that the rainwater that drains into rivers from the city is useless for human because it is infiltrated with different kinds of urban waste.
Problems and Challenges Facing Rural Areas
Seeing that water supply is at the essence of everyone existence, the main problem comes up because quite a significant number of the world’s population does not play any role in water conservation or proper management.
Most people carelessly use water without knowing the impact that their actions have on the sustainability of the resource. It is for such reasons that Eric et al., (2010, p.1); Guggenheim (2008, p.4); and Sanusi (2010, p.1) cite the lack of individual and community participation in sustainable water management as the biggest challenges facing the sustainable provision of clean water.
Secondly, Sanusi (2010, p.22) note that the low use of technology in water supply systems hinder the provision of clean and safe water to rural populations. Overall, governments are supposed to be the custodians of the citizenry’s welfare. However, they in some cases fail to play their rightful roles. In Kinshasa for example, poor city planning (which is the responsibility of government departments) has compromised urban development and by extension compounded the water problem in the rural areas.
If the water management problems and challenges facing rural areas are to be managed, the urbanisation challenges that lead to them must be addressed. Specifically, in cities like Kinshasa, all stakeholders must work together to formulate and implement sustainable urban policies. Specifically, urban planning should be done in a manner that will uphold the integrity of waterways and other natural resources. As Eric et al. (2010, p. 249) aptly note, planning is essential for sustainable land use.
The use of information technology is also a probable solution, which can provide affected stakeholders with efficient ways of obtaining, transmitting, storing, and retrieving relevant data (Eric et al., 2008, p.249). A case in point is the use of computer technology in Coleambally irrigation farms to monitor the water flow, temperatures, and water salinity in the paddy fields (Power, 2008, p. 9).
The active involvement of all stakeholders should also count as a viable solution (Eric et al., 2010, p. 249). This is especially essential because sustainable water use concerns all people. As such, every person should be sensitized about the dire water shortage situation that the world is facing, and encouraged to use the resource in the most conservative manner possible.
There is little doubt that some of the water problems experienced in both the urban and rural areas can be overcome with proper planning and engineering solutions.
By aping what Coleambally’s approach to planning 21st century urban areas, both developing and developed countries can preserve waterbeds, aquifers and natural freshwater bodies, while encouraging their respective populations to adopt sustainable water usage systems. After all, the world is now more than any other time in the past hard-pressed by the twin realities of a drier climate, and increased water demands.
Australian Bureau of statistics (2007) 2006 census quick stats: Coleambally (L) (Urban centre/ locality). Web.
Eric M. M.N., Shouyu, C. and Qin, Z. (2010) Sustainable urbanisation’s challenge in democratic republic of Congo, Journal of Sustainable Development, 3 (2), 242-254.
Gleitsmann, B, A., Kroma, M. A., and Steenhuis, T. (2007) Analysis of a rural water supply project in three communities in Mali: Participation and sustainability. Natural Resources Forum, 31, 142–150.
Guggenheim, S. (2008) Crises and contradictions: understanding the origins of a community development project in Indonesia. Web.
Power, M. (2008) Peak water: Aquifers and rivers are running dry. How three regions are coping. Wired Magazine, 16 (05), 1-11.
Sanusi, Y. A. (2010) Water, sanitation, and human development in urban fringe settlements in Nigeria. Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management, 8 (17), 1-17.