for sustainable development


UN World Water Day 2018 “Nature for Water”: Solutions for the global water crisis to be found (also) in nature

Can solutions to global water problems lie in nature itself? With this year’s motto for the World Water Day on 22 March, the United Nations focused on so-called nature-based solutions. This includes nature conservation measures that protect ecosystems and drinking water resources. ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research is investigating how nature-based solutions can also contribute to reducing the pressure on precious drinking water resources in cities.

Planted facade

The UN’s Agenda 2030 establishes the sustainable use of water as a central goal in order to secure the global water demand of the growing world population. Now, this goal can only be achieved by combining a variety of solutions. On the one hand, there are technical solutions which, among other things, focus on water reuse. According to the UN, more than 80 percent of the wastewater generated by society has so far flowed back into the environment without being treated or reused. On the other hand, the high pressure on drinking water resources should also be relieved with the help of nature-based solutions (NBS). Intact floodplains as a natural flood protection measure or the storage of groundwater via natural wetlands are appropriate measures that can be implemented on a landscape level and can support the water cycle in a natural way. However, there is also potential for nature-based solutions in urban areas.

Nature-based solutions to urban water problems

“The conservation of water resources has become a core task for cities by now, too”, says Martin Zimmermann, a water researcher at ISOE. “Cities can take up nature-based solutions by linking natural green and blue infrastructures, such as parks or green spaces, rivers or streams, with technical infrastructures in a meaningful way”. For example, rainwater can be collected in nearby ponds and basins. Closer to the city centre, rainwater can be channelled into cisterns and underground reservoirs to supply gardens, but also roadside trees or new types of “green walls” – vertical green spaces integrated into the masonry – as well as parks. “Water storage is not only useful with regard to increasing heavy rainfalls as a result of climate change”, says Zimmermann, “but also as a response to droughts, which are becoming more frequent. So, cities would no longer have to use drinking water to supply their green spaces and create a pleasant climate for the city's inhabitants”.

Rethinking town planning: Multiple use of water resources in a rigorous manner

The possibilities of a semi-natural urban water cycle have so far not been taken into account in urban planning, Zimmermann goes on to say, adding that drinking water is still being used for almost all purposes. “Neither garden watering, nor car wash or toilet flushing need this kind of water quality”, he says. “Here we have to rethink, because there is in fact a solution to water scarcity provided by water itself. All we have to do is consistently use the resource nature provides us with in households, commercial or public facilities and industry close to the city”, says Zimmermann. Incorporated into sustainable water management concepts, nature-based solutions could thus also contribute to moving one step closer to one of the key objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Sustainable development goal 6 obliges the world community to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water by 2030.



Nicola Schuldt-Baumgart

Nicola Schuldt-Baumgart
Head of Knowledge Communication & Public Relations
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-30

Melanie Neugart
Knowledge Communication Consultant,
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