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THE ACRONYM SWITCH stands for Sustainable Water Management Improves Tomorrow’s Cities’ Health, The SWITCH-in-Asia Initiative provides an integrated and innovative concept towards the development of sustainable water management in urban areas. It is a visionary flagship programme of UNESCO that addresses un-sustainability of current water management practices in cities, and sets the scene for the development of solutions for ‘Water in the City of the Future’.

In order to facilittate SWITCH-in-Asia project plans, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the Asia Pacific Centre for Ecohydrology (APCE) and the UNESCO Office, Jakarta jointly organised the SWITCH-in-Aisa Regional Partnership Workshop which was held at the Grand Kemang Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia from 8 to 10 December 2009. The workshop aimed to discuss and identify potential projects in Asia and the Pacific region and possible themes to be developed, as well as to establish an initial regional partnership and learning alliance for sustainable urban water management.

The workshop was attended by more than 90 participants from sixteen countries representing a number of national, regional and global networks in Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Plilippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Timor-Leste and Vietnam, as well as other relevant organisations (e.g. Asian Development Bank-Integrated Citarum Water Resources Management Investment Programme/ADB-ICWRMIP, Asian Institute of technology Centre-Indonesia, ASEAN Secretariat, AusAID, USAID) and UN agencies (i.e. UNDP, UNICEF, UNIDO). In addition to individual presentations SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis was jointly carried by the workshop participants for the research, demonstration and capacity building areas of the program. Concerning the action research in the context of urban water management, the following common strengths were identified:

  • Strong government support for the urban water management
  • Opportunities to link different component of urban water cycle
  • Emphasis on urban water management policy development
  • Identified need for management of water and sanitation in a ecologically sustain- able manner
  • Appropriate risk management strategies to manage climate and urbanisation risks to water availability, water quality and living standards.

The common weaknesses for the research area were identified as below:

  • Rapid population growth and the negative impact of climate change is not properly considered within existing plans
  • Lack of community involvement in urban water management
  • Insufficient water infrastructure which is occasionally also in very bad condition
  • Old technologies leading to new problems in water security and water quality.

The opportunities for research are in different countries across the region; however, there is sufficient evidence to start a regional initiative which can bring together research excellence and stakeholder participation through demonstation of best practices. It is evident that the advanced research on urban water management already exists in some countries; however, integration of reduce, reuse and recycling of water is often not well-linked with the ecological management of water supply and disposal of sewerage. There is a need for rational cost-benefit analyses to be done in different situations as the new technologies for water treatment are being introduced in the region. There are also some very good examples on how waste water can be used as an energy source.

There is a need for ensuring multi-functionally of the urban water cycle by linking water supply with flooding, public health and livelihood issues. Climate change, rapid urbanisation and population increase pose serious threats and one has to find ways how to deal with them. The negative impact of climate change is being increased due to rising temperatures of the cities causing droughts with increasing of evaporation. Urban migrant numbers are increasing and the poverty in the Asia- Pacific region presents a serious problems for urban water management research. Institutional problems and lack of water policy in these countries require urban water research to closely link with law and policy aspects.

The SWOT analysis confirmed that there are common strenghts in urban water management across the region which can be linked together through a network of demonstration projects. Storm water management exists at various levels of sophistication across the region and there is common concern about the improvement of water quality linked with storm water management. The local legislation on urban water management exists across the region and there is increasing awareness on urban environment and therefore should be part of all demonstration projects effort. It is important to emphasize that the government involvement is important in setting up of demonstration projects. The need for promotion of the new technologies was identified as a common priority in most countries of the region. Nevertheless, as part of the demonstration needs deliberations, the participants identified many weaknesses which need a shared management approach. These common weaknesses are the following:

  • Poor stakeholder involvement
  • Poor water supply
  • Fast urban growth
  • Weak spatial planning
  • Low budget
  • Bad governance
  • Lack of awareness of innovative technologies
  • Lack of leadership and lack of capacity building

Urban planning as well as use of innovative technologies is prerequisite for SWITCHing to a better water management state. Work with the governmental agencies is highly recommended in order to improve the decision making in different geopolitical setting. It is necessary to introduce eco-technologies and to carry out the cost analysis. A number of ommon gaps within the capacity building area were identified, as well as the opportunities and the ways to bridge current gaps and to improve the capacity building were diccussed. It is clear that in the whole region the individual governments are very concerned and interested in capacity building in urban water management using concepts such as the Green School. Also, many awareness raising programmes are already in operation.

There is a good number of competent institutions and the competent experts; however, community level capacity building remains a critical issue. Their knowledge has to be disseminated across the region. The common weaknesses for the region in the capacity building area are listed below:

  • Awareness of people in some countries is very low
  • Bad institutional conditions
  • The Ministries of education are not linked with the other education institutions
  • The absence of good model of capacity building from grass-root to the tertiary levels
  • Religious influence on education and water management practices.

It was highly recommended to mobilise public support in order to improve water managment capacity at various levels. Also, it was recommended that the water management policy and innovation should be given national level priority status. National budgets have to be used for environment and for the adaptation on the climate change. Climate change challenges make capacity building an important adaptation measure to mitigate urban water management impacts. Interest of international funding agencies in building local human capacity is an asset for the region. Following the SWOT analyses, the following threats for capacity building were identified:

  • Insufficient funds for the capacity building in the areas
  • Water scarcity due to climate change and population growth
  • Disharmony between local and national goals in capacity building
  • Human resources planning
  • Difference in languages to offer common programs.

The workshops recommended sharing of good experiences within the region by setting up country level SWITCH initiatives. The best practices should be circulated to build learning alliances. UNESCO and partners can help improve the research capability as well community’s capacity through its networks with the Member states in the region and through research policy advice. The participants identified a number of possible projects which can fit into the scope of the SWITCH initiative based on the common threats identified for the research, demonstration and education projects.

Following the workshop, the SWITCH-in-Asia programme will be implemented in two phases. The Phase I (2010-2013) will emphasise on setting up innovation, development, demonstration, awareness raising and capacity building projects in selected countries through national workshop with potential partners. The Phase II (2013-2016) will be mainly focusses on replication and up-scalling of the best practices in the other cities of Asia.