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Future-proof Urban Waterfront Planning

MSc Metha Bregman, behavioral scientist and new business models consultant, CPONH.
MSc Karen Jonkers, network developer and change management facilitator, CPONH.

four persons walking on a quay
Workshop participants on the Liljeholmen Quay

As part of the EU program SOS Climate Waterfront, we, Karen Jonkers and Metha Bregman visited on behalf of CPONH, the workshop SOS Climate Waterfront in Sweden. During our one-month stay in Stockholm in May-June 2022, this gathering brought us in contact with a brand new international network of climate-aware promovendi, architects, teachers and researchers from a number of countries. We brought home an increased understanding of the Swedish society, the public transport system and Stockholm’s aspirations towards sustainable urban development. But what did we actually take home in terms of insights into the climate situation of Stockholm? And what typical Dutch solutions could be applied?

More deaths from extreme heat and more frequent downpours

Daniel Oudin Åström of Umeå University, Sweden, and colleagues, report in Nature Climate Change, that deaths from extreme heat doubled in Stockholm, Sweden, between 1980 and 2009 and the agent behind this grim reckoning seems to be global warming. The not very surprising conclusion is that with increasing temperatures, and with more moisture in the air, there will be more rain. Looking for extreme events, the scientists conclude that as the century wears on, torrential downpours of the kind that once happened only every 50 years will start to happen every 20 years or so.

So, like in the Netherlands, climate change leads to extreme heat as well as extreme rainfall and flooding, asking for solutions in urban planning and awareness of potential risks in humans and youth to provide for future solutions.

Climate adaptation, lessons from the Netherlands

For the last 8 years, the water authorities in the Netherlands have been increasing the perspective of ‘climate adaptation’. The idea is that adaptive cities and landscapes need flexible solutions for the (climate) developments of the future. The country has invested in the development of a climate map in which the consequences of extreme downpours and heat and draught become transparent. This gives a clear insight into the vulnerable places and points out where to solve the most urgent issues in case of extreme weather. Landscape elements that contain solutions can be increased water storage capacity and water disposal like wadis for low areas in town or more bushes and trees to prevent heat stress in stony areas. Given our history and present with ‘flooding’ our focus has been more on this, than e.g. on heat prevention. The knowledge portal climate adaptation bundled knowledge example projects Take a look!

The Dutch adaptive embankment made of sludge

A very Dutch, concrete example to prevent cities from flooding, is by building a new adaptive embankment where sludge has been used as a building block for the river landscape.

an animation of an adaptive embankment

In the devised design and future vision, the new adaptive embankment is conceived of as part of a wide landscape zone. For this zone, a reinforcement strategy is provided in which sedimentation (sludge) is used to form new river dunes, thus strengthening the embankment. The result is a dynamic river landscape that welcomes recreation, environmental development and new forms of habitation.

Although interesting solutions can thus be found in the Netherlands, as well as in Stockholm, it remains a huge challenge to create future-proof cities because as in Stockholm, a big part of the urban territory in the Netherlands is often private property but also very densely populated and given away as well. The top 3 problems for urban planners in the Netherlands are therefore said to be:

  1. the earlier mentioned return-on-investment problem,
  2. missing sense of urgency, and
  3. political and institutional need for legislation.

Source: Deltares 2015, available online

City Deals – a business model that fits Dutch culture

Given the Dutch history and culture of business and ‘do-it-yourself mentality’ combined with a certain ‘civil disobedience’, solutions are focused on new business models that are based upon ideas on cooperation between the corporate and public world as well as involving citizens. And so; At the end of 2015, various parties involved came up with the idea of ​​starting a City Deal for the globally challenging theme of climate adaptation. “In City Deals, ambitious partners from the cities, public and private, work together with the national government on new solutions, in which existing practices and financing models are discussed.” In the documentary film The Resilient City Explained, this journey is visualized with projects, stories and personal visions. More information can be found here.

A suitcase filled with ideas on ‘Sustainable Tuesday’

As mentioned before: involving residents and educating adults and children in climate awareness, is found to be of great influence in the success of implementing solutions. Interesting examples are e.g. climate festivals, or any kind of festival executed in a ‘planet inclusive way’, i.e. run on renewable energy and recycled water and recycled waste. To raise awareness and involve people in finding solutions, the first Tuesday of September is Sustainable Tuesday. A special day on which sustainable ideas and initiatives are given a platform in political The Hague. On this day, the cabinet will receive the Sustainable Tuesday suitcase containing hundreds of sustainable ideas and initiatives from all corners of our society. The most sustainable, innovative and distinctive ideas and initiatives have a chance to win prizes and the opportunity to give the idea or initiative an extra boost.

Lessons from Stockholm – multidisciplinary approach needed

people having a discussion
Photo: Katarina Larsen, KTH

Our statement is that we learned in Stockholm that we need a multidisciplinary approach to urban planning and design. We need to combine design solutions, new technologies and innovations with more ‘soft’, psychological and change knowledge skills. Ambitions like creating awareness, influencing behavior and involving and educating residents, will prosper with the knowledge of behavioral change experts. In the business area, new business models like co-creation and sharing investments and revenues are to be considered.

We hope to have given you some ideas and are ready for exchanging more ideas and examples to create the most wonderful tantalizing robust and climate-proof cities.

CPONH, Collective Private Enterprise-Noord Holland of multi-disciplinary academics, is a non-governmental Foundation, aimed at supporting (Dutch) civilian initiatives on sustainable housing and climate-proof neighborhood areas.

More information about the project SOS Climate Waterfront 

Contact persons at KTH

Lina Suleiman, School of Architecture and the Built Environment

Katarina Larsen, School of Architecture and the Built Environment

Students found indicators of waste in many of Stockholm’s waterways – more monitoring motivated

Lauren McKee

One of the great biotechnological advances of recent years is the development of affordable and accessible methods for genome sequencing. In the field of metagenomics, we can sequence the genomes of all the microbes in a community, by extracting DNA directly from an environmental sample such as soil or water. There are many different sequencing techniques that can be used for this, depending on the amount of time available for a project and the depth of information that is required. The genius of metagenome sequencing is that we don’t need to isolate microbes from the environment to know that they are there – we can find their genomes through the sequencing data! Such tools can be used to track the quality and health of urban waterways and to look for species that might be pathogenic or that may indicate the presence of pollution.

An advanced course introduction to metagenome sequencing

On the Medical, Industrial, and Environmental Biotechnology Master’s degree programmes at KTH, students can choose to take the course BB2560 Advanced Microbiology and Metagenomics. In this course, we give an introduction to the concept of metagenome sequencing, and the students read case studies about the various ways the technology can be used. A special feature of the course is that students get to perform a real research project that runs throughout the course, and the resulting lab report serves as their final exam. As a group, the students choose a research topic and select an environment to sample. Then we arrange a field trip to collect samples, and the students work in labs at AlbaNova to extract and amplify microbial community DNA. The DNA samples are sent for sequencing and, when we get the results back, the students analyse the data themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Water sampling from different locations in Stockholm

This year, the students chose to investigate waterways in the city of Stockholm. They selected sites that vary in their proximity to industry, traffic, human residence, and more protected natural areas. Specifically, we collected samples from the lake Laduviken at a site close to AlbaNova where we often see swimmers in the summer. We collected from a small lake in a quiet area on Djurgården. We took samples from the home garden pond of one of our teachers. And finally, we collected from two different sites along the Bällstaån, a small river running between Bromma and Sundbyberg. The Bällstaån has a history of heavy pollution, and there are still industrial areas, a boat club, and several building sites along its length. But it has been undergoing passive remediation for many years, and there is clear evidence of diverse plant and animal life close to some of the more residential stretches.

A heron standing on a branch submerged in water
A pair of herons made their nest on the Bällstaån in 2021-2022
Two ducks walking on a wooden pier with lush grass growing on both sides
Lots of ducks live in/on/by the Bällstaån. They nest on the water banks and we see ducklings each spring. Lots of plant life on the Bällstaån in spring/summer.

Human activity was expected to cause disturbance in microbial activity

The students developed the hypothesis for this project that proximity to human activity, particularly industrial activities that can cause pollution, would lead to a difference or disturbance in the microbial community of the water or the sediment beneath it. At some sites, there were clear indicators of pollution, such as plastic waste in the water, an oily sheen, or an unpleasant odour. As I live alongside the Bällstaån, I was particularly intrigued – and a bit nervous – about what they might find in the microbiome!

An industrial building, containers and an excavator near Bällstaån
Industrial site close to where we sampled Bällstaån

Waste detected in most sites

In short, the results were not very good. Microbial taxa that are typically found in wastewater were detected at almost every site, suggesting that waste is being released and finding its way even to the more pristine parts of our city. Sadly, there was not as much of a difference between the microbiome at the supposedly pristine sites and those that we expected to show signs of pollution. During a literature search, students found reports that pipe misconnections and other errors are known to have caused wastewater leakages into Laduviken in previous years, but the data from this our student project indicate that there may be similar problems at many sites.

A beaver swimming in water
A beaver swimming in the murky water of Bällstaån

The study should be followed up with more water quality monitoring

There were of course some limitations to our study. For example, due to the scheduling of our course, we collected our samples in early February, when the top few centimetres of water were frozen. The cold temperatures probably had an impact on the diversity of microbes we could find, as cell counts were likely lower. This could mean that our data give an inaccurate picture of water quality by over-emphasising the abundance of some microbes. Nonetheless, this student projects could serve as motivation for a wider initiative using metagenome sequencing to monitor water quality throughout the city, both in places we expect to be polluted and in the areas we think of as being better protected from human impact.

open water surrounded by snow, with blocks of flats in the background
Bällstaån on sampling day

I want to thank all of the students who took course BB2560 this year for proposing a really interesting and useful project, and for being brave enough to collect water and sediment samples from frozen rivers and lakes!

Lauren McKee is a docent in biotechnology and a researcher at the KTH Division of Glycoscience

KTH/IVL Sjöstadverket Water Innovation Centre (SWIC): from research to implementation for a sustainable society

Isaac Owusu-Agyeman

Sjöstadsverket Water Innovation Centre (SWIC) is owned and operated by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and KTH. Sjöstadsverket is Sweden’s leading and internationally prominent research and development facility in water purification technology.

Many lack clean water

Water is the core of life and an important indicator of sustainable development. However, an increasing proportion of the world’s population does not have access to safe water. The lack of clean water is a growing problem in the world. It is said that access to safe water is a human right that many people lack today. UNICEF estimates that 1 out of 4 children will be living in extreme water stress areas by 2040 due to climate change.

Technical equipment in a hall
The SWIC operation hall. Photo: Jesper Karlsson.

SWIC bridges the gap between research and implementation

SWIC as a research and development facility plays an important role in solving global water and climate problem by driving problem-solving ideas to implementation. SWIC is an excellent example of how to bridge the gap between research and implementation in a real-world application. Water and energy issues can be mitigated not only with innovative and efficient water treatment technologies but also strategies for recovering resources from wastewater and other waste streams. There is a need to transition into a fossil-free society due to the alarming adverse effects of petroleum-based products on the climate. Material and energy recovery from waste and industrial residues is integral in the circular economy concept that will help create value and contribute to the UN sustainability goals by reducing virgin materials’ consumption and decreasing waste generation.

Interior of a building with a lot of technical equipmen
The new SWIC operation hall. Photo: Jesper Karlsson

A place to test new technologies and innovative solutions

SWIC is a unique pilot- and demonstration facility for the development of innovative and sustainable techniques to ensure clean water and a better environment for the present and future generations. The focus of SWIC includes but is not limited to resource-efficient water/wastewater treatment technologies, recovery and reuse technologies, and energy production & carbon neutral processes. SWIC is very well suited for testing new technology and innovative solutions in water treatment and environmental technology. The pilot plant is built in a way that enables flexible control and interaction with various water treatment technologies and processes for resource recovery from waste.

Stainless steel equipment in an industry room
Ongoing installation. Photo: Jesper Karlsson

Relocating to new facilities in Loudden

SWIC, formerly called Hammarby Sjöstadverket, was built around 2002–2003 by Stockholm Vatten och Avfall and was situated on top of Henriksdalsberget at the Henriksdal wastewater treatment plant. The R&D facility was handed over to KTH and IVL in 2007 and since then several innovative and world-changing projects have been carried out in the facility. Beyond the research, SWIC is used for educational purposes including PhD, bachelor, and master’s degree practical coursework, internship, and field trips. Since September 2022, SWIC’s operations are relocating to new premises in Loudden, Stockholm, which is about 15 minutes from the main KTH campus. Preparation and installation of pilot plants at the new location at Loudden are ongoing and operation will start after the summer of 2023.

Buildings and portable buildings in a snowy landscape
The Loudden SWIC site. Photo: Jesper Karlsson

Workshop with KTH researchers

In April 2023, a workshop was held for KTH researchers and IVL staff to discuss future opportunities to initiate innovative projects at the new SWIC. The workshop included the presentation of successful projects that have been carried out at the SWIC and a site visit to SWIC’s new location at Loudden. There was a lot of excitement about the new place and KTH and IVL researchers are looking forward to having their teaching and research activities at the innovation centre. Participants of the workshop see degree projects, product development, course, and site visits as some of the activities befitting for the new location.

People in yellow vests in a room
KTH researchers on a site visit at SWIC. Photo: Linda Kanders

Isaac Owusu-Agyeman is a researcher at the Department of Industrial Biotechnology and the deputy coordinator and KTH responsible person for the Hammarby Sjöstadsverket

Transdisciplinary co-creation on the river in search for more sustainable futures – fieldwork experiences with local fishing communities in Colombia

Gauri Salunkhe & Katarina Larsen

The sun setting on our right in beautiful orange hues, water flowing calmly and gentle breeze on our faces. This was the tranquil atmosphere on Río Guapi on a Saturday evening in early October 2022, as we were travelling down the river in a traditional fishing boat of the Guapiñeros. In the next moment, loud cheering and clapping echoed through the mangroves and houses lining the river. The sail prototype had been unfolded and successfully set up on the boat. The next twenty minutes had everyone brimming with excitement as the fishermen expertly navigated the boat towards the barrio of Puerto Cali, using the sail that the team had built together just hours before, utilising the ancestral knowledge of the fishing community.

sailing boat on a river
Image 1: Econavipesca team sailing down Río Guapi (Photo by Jose Miguel Vecino)

Local and ancestral knowledge as a strategy to reach sustainability goals

The use of local knowledge is considered key to achieving the climate strategies and plans, as outlined by Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in a recent report (IPCC, 2022). Both the IPCC and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) emphasise the importance of local and indigenous knowledge in understanding and creating solutions for sustainable futures (Tengö et al., 2021a-b). Moving towards more sustainable futures, in practice, requires a thorough understanding of the local traditions and how concepts of change are used in the local context. The preservation of fishing traditions, sailing and sailmaking are interesting examples. On the one hand, recognizing the value of preserving local ancestral knowledge (related to fishing and sail making), but also recognizing that the older generation wants their children to take steps to improve their future, embarking on studies etc. Thereby wanting a better future, with less hard work that fishing entails, for the next generation. This is one example that we discussed with fishermen in Guapi showing that the involvement of local communities is necessary for getting a better understanding of how local knowledge and cultural traditions are key for understanding how change can come about. In addition to this, also recognizing that the local and global level is interrelated (Larsen et al. 2011) when implementing policy to achieve climate objectives and UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). Improving the possibilities to improve (local communities) life situation and increased involvement in economic development is central to the strategy for the regional development of Latin America (Sida 2021, page 9) relating to several SDGs, including SDG12, sustainable production and consumption.

Local knowledge, culture and values are important to be included together with scientific knowledge in the co-production of new solutions and for input to advising policies.  This aspect of co-creation in a transdisciplinary team to take advantage of both the traditional knowledge of local communities and scientific knowledge of academics from several different disciplines (including anthropology, environmental history, technology, engineering, and design etc.) is an important methodology of the Pacífico Econavipesca project.

Fishing and boats in the community in Guapi, Colombia

The objective of the project is to develop a sustainable artisanal fishing model that reduces the environmental, social, and economic impacts on the ecosystem in the municipality of Guapi, Cauca, in Colombia.  A major challenge is to reduce dependence on fossil fuels for fishing boats and engage in dialogues with the local community about ways to create social entrepreneurship to make fishing activities more sustainable long term. The project involves universities in Colombia with strong commitment and previous experiences with the communities in Guapi. The focus of fieldwork activities is to create room for dialogues and mutual learning rather than importing or imposing certain technology or ways of thinking on any local community. The fieldwork activities where KTH has been involved have been carried out in collaboration with the research teams in Colombia to ensure these aspects and safeguard continued dialogues on how future solutions may look.

Guapi is a municipality on the pacific coast of Colombia. The town and villages here are all situated along Río Guapi, Río Guaji and Río Napi. The rivers are a source of life for these communities as they provide food, water, transportation, etc. In fact, their relationship with water is beyond material provisions. It is their deep connection with the diverse natural environment in the territory, a rich food culture, music and dance that follows the rhythm of the river, and their ancestors that have passed down a great wealth of knowledge. Artisanal fishing is one such knowledge that has been passed down through generations in Guapi. Currently, traditional fishing boats that run on gasoline motors are used to fish out at sea. However, gasoline is very expensive in the region and causes them a great economic burden. This is worsened by increased uncertainty of catching fish with reduced fish populations due to pollution and climate change, causing them to return with little to no fish on many days. Local environmental pollution of the river is also caused by leakages of gasoline. Hence, one of the main objectives is to create more sustainable fishing boats with reduced reliance on gasoline.

buildings next to a river
Image 2: Municipality of Guapi located along Río Guapi (Photo by Gauri Salunkhe)
fishing boat with combustion engines next to a river
Image 3: Traditional fishing boat with gasoline motor used for fishing (Photo by Gauri Salunkhe)
mural painting depicting a fish human hybrid animal with houses on it's back
Image 4: Mural in Guapi that depicts their dependence on the river and fishing activities (Photo by Gauri Salunkhe)

In the initial stages of the project Econavipesca, it became clear that the previous generation of fishermen would sail out to sea with homemade sails. However, with the introduction of modern technology like gasoline motors, this traditional knowledge of sail-making and sailing was forgotten. This was one of the early stages of co-creation, where local knowledge was re-discovered in dialogue with the community. The team then decided to examine possibilities to incorporate these traditional sailing techniques in present-day boats to reduce reliance on gasoline motors.

Co-creation in the focus of KTH fieldwork

In October 2022, the KTH project team embarked on their first field trip, including Gauri Salunkhe, a master’s student in Sustainable Technology at KTH. Gauri would spend three months on a field study in Colombia. This field study focused on understanding community engagement, co-creation strategies and actor interactions to identify challenges and opportunities for the sustainability of the project. She engaged in dialogue with different stakeholders such as academics and community team members to gather data for her field study, using methodologies such as observational studies, interviews, actor-network mapping, co-creative activities, reflective workshops, etc.

Video 1: Interview with Gauri Salunkhe about her field study experience in Colombia (Interview by Sebastián Serna)

This KTH field study began with a deep dive into the community, as Gauri, together with Katarina Larsen, a researcher at KTH, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, and Magnus Lindqvist, Senior advisor at the KTH International Relations Office, embarked on the fieldwork in Guapi (30 Sep 2022 – 04 Oct 2022) together with the project team in Colombia. Ask any member of the team about a key moment during this fieldwork, and the moment that would resonate in all the responses would be – “the sailing activity”. This brings us back to the scene at the beginning, on Río Guapi.

The sailing activity is an essential example of co-creation in the Pacífico Econavipesca project. Local knowledge of sail-making and sailing was incorporated with academic knowledge to design and build the sail prototypes. Instead of fieldwork activities solely organised by the academic team, with the community members only as participants, in this case, the community members’ representatives were key to planning and organising the activity. They gathered local resources, people and materials, specified fabrics needed for sails, and identified suitable locations, to build the sail prototypes. Since the traditional sail-making knowledge is only held by some elderly members of the community now, they were also an essential part of designing and building the sail.

a group of people holding a sheet of fabric in a large room with brick walls
Image 5: Academic and community team members of Econavipesca Project building the sail prototype together (Photo by Gauri Salunkhe)

Sailing on the river

A key moment for one member of the academic team was while building the sails together with the local community. “At the beginning, they were very protective with some information due to the (historical) projects culture in this part of the country … as they don’t know what people would do with the information”. However, the activity could give space to having an open conversation where everyone felt comfortable sharing their experiences with sailing. Many of them learnt it when they were children but lost touch over the years. Furthermore, it was the fishermen that had the local knowledge about the material, type of knots required, etc., not the academic team, so the fishermen’s active involvement, knowledge and skills were essential for this activity of re-introducing sail-making and testing the sails on the river.

a group of people talking in a big room
Image 6: Guapi fishermen sharing their sailing experiences with the academic team (Photo by Jose Miguel Vecino)

Initially, when we started the fieldwork in Guapi in October, we expected to build the sail prototypes, but not necessarily test them on the river. However, the community members were so enthusiastic to also test the sails on the river! As expressed by one (academic) team member who was organising the activity, “They were so interested in testing the sail, who am I to stop them? Just go for it!”. This experience highlights the importance of not imposing our own views and expectations on the project fieldwork activities but being flexible to carry it out according to the community’s wishes. The organiser of the activity described the smile on a fisherman’s face when navigating the boat like he was a little child again while looking at the sail. It is moments like this that inspire the team to continue working hard to implement new useful ways for co-creation in this project.

a group of people in a sailing boat
Image 7: The Econavipesca team is all smiles as the sail prototype is successfully used to navigate down the river (Photo by Sebastián Serna)

Co-creation experiences from dialogues during fieldwork

Engaging in co-creative dialogues about future ways of more sustainable living in a fishing community like Guapi goes beyond dialogues with fishing associations. It also means involving different types of members of the community (that are not out on the fishing boats), such as the women (often involved in preparations before and after fishing trips) and younger generations in fishing communities. The young adults will determine the future of how fishing activities will develop in Guapi. It is important to improve the quality of life for fishermen, increase economic gains from fishing and dignify the work of fishermen to retain the artisanal fishing practices among young people in the future. Women are also an important part of the fishing journey who may be invisible at the moment. For example, they carry out preparations for the fishing journey, and process and sell the fish post-fishing. It is important to recognise this and involve them in co-creating solutions.

Some other lessons about transdisciplinary co-creation from this project are the importance of establishing dialogues for discussing terminology used, expectations by community and academic teams, and being open to learning from each other. This is important both within the academic team and across the academic and local community teams. Since participants bring different experiences and perspectives to co-creative learning processes, it is essential to create dialogues that give room for reflection on activities and to also align everyone to work towards a common goal.

students in a classroom
Image 8: Activities with students in Guapi about artisanal fishing during previous fieldwork (Photo by Jose Miguel Vecino)
three persons in colourful clothes standing talking
Image 9: Dialogues with women leaders in Guapi (Photo by Katarina Larsen)
A woman sitting down holding a big fish
Image 10: Women in Guapi processing fish to be sold (Photo by Jose Miguel Vecino)

Experiences from the fieldwork in this project highlight that transdisciplinary co-creation is at the core of finding solutions for sustainable development. It has provided concrete examples of the importance of a dialogue-based approach to gathering different types of knowledge, and methods of catalysing participatory action and creating dialogues on future options by involving the community. It is when the community is actively involved and takes initiative, that they would be able to create and maintain solutions for themselves, which is required for long-term sustainability for the communities along the Guapi river.

Participants in the Pacífico Econavipesca project include the fishing associations of Guapi, Colombia, local and regional authorities, and the following academic partners: Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Colombia), Universidad del Cauca (Colombia), KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), and Lund University (Sweden). The project is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). We wish to thank all participants in the project for their genuine commitment to the project work and, in particular, the local fishing community representatives for sharing their knowledge, stories and unforgettable experiences on the river of Guapi.

a group of people standing in front of a sail, next to a boat
Image 11: Academic and community team of Econavipesca with the completed sail prototype (Photo by Julian Hernández)

Gauri Salunkhe, MSc-student in Sustainable Technology at KTH

Katarina Larsen, researcher at Div. History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH

For more information on the project Econavipesca and interviews with KTH participants, follow the links below.

Some key references and further reading

Agusdinata, D. B. 2022. The role of universities in SDGs solution co-creation and implementation: a human-centered design and shared-action learning process. Sustainability science. [Online] 17 (4), 1589–1604.

IPCC 2022. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, 3056 pp., doi:10.1017/9781009325844.

Larsen, K., Gunnarsson-Östling, U. and  Westholm, E. 2011. Environmental scenarios and local-global level of community engagement : Environmental justice, jams, institutions and innovation,” Futures: The journal of policy, planning and futures studies, vol. 43, no. 4, s. 413-423.

Minoi, J.L., et al., 2019. A Participatory Co-creation Model to Drive Community Engagement in Rural Indigenous Schools: A Case Study in Sarawak. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 17(3), pp. 173-183, available online at

Moons, I.; Daems, K.; Van de Velde, L.L.J., 2021. Co-Creation as the Solution to Sustainability Challenges in the Greenhouse Horticultural Industry: The Importance of a Structured Innovation Management Process. Sustainability 2021, 13, 7149.

Tengö, M. et al. 2021a. Indigenous Futures Thinking: Changing the narrative and re-building based on re-rooting. Workshop report. SwedBio at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm, Sweden.

Tengö, M. et al. 2021b. Creating Synergies between Citizen Science and Indigenous and Local Knowledge. Bioscience. [Online] 71 (5), 503–518.

Universidad Nacional de Colombia, et al. 2021. Technical Report for the first year of the Agreement. Project Econavipesca Del Pacifico: Ecosistema Para la Navigacion Pesquera Sustentable en el Municipio de Guapi, Cauca.

Sida 2021. Strategiplan för Sveriges regionala utvecklingssamarbete med Latinamerika 2022-2024, Datum: 21-12-13, Environment, climate and sustainable use of natural resources (Stödområde 2: Miljö, klimat och hållbart utnyttjande av naturresurser, page 9) ”Hållbar produktion och konsumtion (SDG12), men även SDG 3,5, 8 och 16, är viktiga för omställningen till grön/cirkulär ekonomi, som också måste ge fattiga och utsatta människor bättre möjligheter att förbättra sin livssituation och en ökad delaktighet i den ekonomiska utvecklingen.”

Recognising the complexity of conflict(s) and cooperation is key for the sustainability of urban drinking water provision in the Global South

Historically, cities have built their drinking water service provision based on the principle of universal coverage that relies heavily on formal piped water supply offered by a few municipal actors. However, in cities of the Global South these formal service provision systems are often very fragmented and can face shortcomings in meeting the water demands of all urban water users. Importantly, the urban poor that live in informal settlements are often disconnected from these services and therefore complement their drinking water needs with a plethora of informal water services.

Water provided by water cart vendors in Kayole-Soweto, Nairobi Photo credit: Timos Karpouzoglou

As part of the research project (WaterFlow), “Making the water flow Conflict(s) and cooperation between formal and informal urban water regimes in Asia and Africa” (2019-2022), funded by FORMAS, the objective has been to understand the kinds of  conflict(s) and cooperation that take place between formal and informal drinking water services in the Global South.

The project has focused particularly on learning from two cities, Nairobi (Kenya) and Delhi (India). Equally, in Nairobi and Delhi, full coverage of water provision through formal ‘piped’ water has not been realised and therefore both metropolitan regions contain a broad water infrastructure spectrum from centralised, tightly coupled monopoly networks, to more splintered service provision models. Therefore, the urban poor in these two cities are using a variety of options to meet vital water needs beyond piped water supply, such as water tanker tracks, community and private boreholes as well as water provided by water cart vendors.

Water provided by water tankers in Rwata district, Delhi
Photo credit: Vishal Narain

In both cities, municipalities have been resisting recognition of this heterogeneity of urban water services despite their importance for the urban poor resulting in numerous forms of conflict(s) and cooperation that are usually missed by policy makers and water authorities. Turning to conflicts first. In the Delhi case, we found that conflicts although often subtle and drawn along lines of caste and class, they effectively determine which users become served first and by which water service regime (formal or informal). In Nairobi on the other hand, conflict(s) can be very dynamic and often violent involving clashes between different groups, vandalism or verbal conflict.

Despite the prominence of these kinds of conflict(s) we found at the other side of the spectrum, evidence of strong levels of cooperation in the interactions among the actors. In a recent publication from the WaterFlow project, we have discussed how institutionalised practices make it possible for water users to access both formal and informal modes of water provision, particularly during times of water scarcity. Furthemore, these same practices compel the formal urban water actors to accept the informal actors even though in official parlance ‘informal’ actors will be treated as ‘illegal’.  We find evidence that these interactions have become normalised over a long period of time and therefore tend to remain rather stable despite the existence of conflicts in both cases.

Further to our empirical research, we have sought to engage with municipal water authorities, policy makers, researchers and water practitioners on the importance of conflict(s) and cooperation as an important step towards achieving the sustainability of the entire urban water system as well as equity in water access and distribution. With seed funding received during 2022 from KTH Sustainability Office we hosted a policy and research workshop in Nairobi on the 8th of December 2022 with participation of important water stakeholders.  The workshop was used as a platform to discuss how formal and informal water services and actors can better co-exist, and to provide recommendations for improving water services to the urban poor and achieving sustainability.

A key recommendation from the workshop was that more efforts are needed to include water consumers from low-income settlements in the policy process. Namely, the key policy actors need to address water users’ experience with informal services in a more transparent way when designing water policies so that these experiences are not forgotten when implementing water policy plans.

The policy actors further noted a need to improve  coordination across formal-informal water services such as by creating an apex body at municipal level that can function as a single window grievance cell for water users (regardless of whether the water service is formal or informal).

The policy actors finally recommended to set-up a mechanism (such as a regulation or contract between the regulator and the water provider) to monitor the water price and quality of informal water delivery services. This can help reduce discrepancies in the pricing and quality of the water provided by formal and informal water providers.

However, it was also clear from the workshop that these recommendations require tackling more systemic obstacles in water service provision in the Global South. Lack of trust between the formal and informal water providers means that they can often undermine each other.  While structural problems in water delivery, such as corruption can act as a serious barrier to cooperation. It was crucially noted, that long-term sustainability tends to be side-lined in favour of short term political gains. That is why local politicians (city and municipal level) may often lack training and awareness around the role of different water service regimes.

International recognition and cooperation to achieve the positive links between access to water and sanitation services and people’s livelihood, health, dignity and freedom is growing. With the SDGs and the human right to water shaping the global policy discourse, there is greater recognition of diverse configurations of public, private and community providers of drinking water.  However, our research shows that there is still work to be done to understand what causes of conflict(s) and what types of cooperation models work better in different contexts. This is particularly true for the water sector as much as other critical sectors in cities and will be a necessary part of the puzzle of achieving the SDGs.


Contact and more information

Timos Karpouzoglou, KTH