CT: Thirstiest of them All



Cape Town currently tops WWF’s list of cities most at risk of water shortages. The other 19 cities come from countries as far apart as Chile and China. The list was compiled using data from the WWF Water Risk Filter on average conditions (supply versus demand), recent droughts (past three years), and future projections (to 2050) as well as Urban Blueprint Data from The Nature Conservancy.

This list is not a prediction but it is definitely a clear wake-up call. Like Cape Town, these cities urgently need to think about water resilience under conditions of climate change and address water risks by reducing demand, considering water allocations, strengthening water governance, and financing green and grey infrastructure. Critically, all cities need to address water access as an issue of social justice to ensure that the poor have access as well as the wealthy. And as an environmental issue to ensure that enough water is left for nature to thrive.

Top 20 cities by average depletion, drought and projected future water discharge

  1. Cape Town, South Africa
  2. Tel Aviv, Israel
  3. Valparaíso, Chile
  4. Amman, Jordan
  5. Havana, Cuba
  6. Oxnard, USA
  7. Santa Barbara, USA
  8. Agadir, Morocco
  9. Casablanca, Morocco
  10. Tunis, Tunisia
  11. Bathinda, India
  12. Meerut, India
  13. Tbilisi, Georgia
  14. Madrid, Spain
  15. João Pessoa, Brazil
  16. Santiago, Chile
  17. Chengdu, China
  18. San Diego, USA
  19. Gurgaon, India
  20. Siliguri, India

Most cities are located where they are because they had a good water source to start with, but as they grow they need to import drinking water and export waste water. Although Cape Town – with almost four million residents – has been billed as the first major city in the world to run the risk of its taps running dry, there are many other cities that are water-stressed.

The World Economic Forum lists water crises among its chief concerns in its annual Global Risks Report 2018 and many cities are now struggling to make the transition to climate-resilient water budgets that reduce demand and increase levels of reuse and recycling. We asked colleagues in WWF offices around the world to share insights that might help Cape Town get ahead of the curve.