City Water Resilience Framework

How can cities and their water system be resilient?

As part of the Arup’s City Water Resilience Framework (CWRF), SIWI helping to develop an implementation methodology that provides specific guidance on what steps to take, in what order and how, to support governance-based solutions to make cities and their water system more resilient.

CWRF is funded by Rockefeller Foundation and led by Arup, London.

The City Water Resilience Framework (CWRF) aims to enable cities to take a holistic view of their water systems and inform decision-makers of a strategy to take forward. The objective is to create a model that can be applied nearly anywhere in the world and can be used directly alongside with the City Water Resilience Assessment, or as an activity in its own right.

The key objectives of CWRF are:

  • Understand the shocks and stresses that may impact the city water basin
  • Assess the resilience of the city water basin
  • Generate and appraise interventions that yield greater resilience for the city water basin in question


The development of CWRF seeks to leverage knowledge, data and lessons learnt from previous resilience work (such as the City Resilience Index, 100 Resilient Cities and Welsh Water Resilience Framework) and use them as a blueprint for defining what the characteristics of a resilient urban water system are. It is supervised under a Steering Group, with representatives from The Rockefeller Foundation, 100 Resilient Cities, the World Bank, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) and The Resilience Shift.

An initial phase of the project includes a robust evidence-based literature review, meta-data analysis and direct engagement efforts to co-create the CWRF and the implementation methodology together with 5 selected cities (Amman, Cape town, Hull, Mexico City and Greater Miami and the Beaches).


How can cities become resilient by applying governance-based solutions in their water system?

SIWI leads the development of the implementation methodology and the governance analysis tools. Our aim is to help cities become resilient by applying governance-based solutions throughout their water systems.

One of the primary stages in the CWRF approach is to define the water system of a city. Once defined, an assessment of the resilience and vulnerabilities can be undertaken and areas for improvements and resilience strengthening can be identified. It is from these options that an intervention, or suite of interventions, can be prioritized based on identified objectives.

The implementation methodology complements guidance provided by CWRF by establishing a structured way to further develop concepts and ideas.

Step wise approach to develop an urban water resilience action plan

As part of the CWRF fieldwork strategy (April-June 2018), SIWI lead governance workshops in the five partner cities. The governance workshops aimed to identify and co-create with key stakeholders (municipal, state and civil society actors, academia, representatives from international organizations etc.) an analysis framework to allow cities to identify governance gaps when looking at resilience challenges in their water systems.

The objective of the workshops was to highlight the concepts of governance by understanding the current scenario of water governance in the cities, mapping their water systems and stakeholders (‘who does what, at what level, how and why?’), major water related shocks and stresses, governance challenges around these shocks and stresses according to key governance functions. Then discussing main attributes for resilient water governance in the urban context.

Information gathered during the fieldwork is setting the basis for the development of the CWRF, its implementation methodology and the different analysis tools. The ambition is that, once established, the City Water Resilience Framework can be used by cities from ‘diagnosis’ through to the ‘prioritization’ stage, then to the ‘implementation’ stage of prioritized decisions to strengthen a city’s water system.

Ultimately, the aim is to have a city water system better positioned to thrive and survive in the face of shocks and stresses

Participants of CWRF governance workshop in Mexico City mapping the city water system and stakeholders | Source: Arup

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Water and urban resilience

Water systems are the lifeblood of a city. They constitute a complex ecosystem whose health and balance are key to the resilience of cities and the communities that inhabit them.

An urban water system cannot be thought of in isolation from the hydrological context within which it sits. Industry, the environment and citizens present competing demands within the city and across the basin. For example, in the case of flooding, one cannot understand and mitigate risk without considering the upstream basins that contribute to flows through the city. In order to build the resilience of any city, one must understand and embrace the complexity of its urban water system. This means taking a holistic, water cycle approach.

A series of hypotheses, which are set out here, guides the development of the City Water Resilience Framework:

  • Urban resilience cannot be achieved and sustained without urban water resilience.
  • Urban water resilience cannot be achieved and sustained without (Basin-scale) freshwater resilience.
  • Freshwater resilience cannot be achieved and sustained without urban water resilience (esp. in Basins with major cities).
  • Addressing urban and Basin-level freshwater resilience jointly/compatibly yields a greater resilience dividend

Governance for urban water resilience

According to the working definition adopted by the CWRF, urban water resilience is “the capacity of the urban water system, including the human, social, political, economic, physical and natural assets, to anticipate and absorb, adapt and respond to, and learn from shocks and stresses, in order to protect public health & wellbeing and the natural environment and minimize economic disruption”.

The governance analysis is based on several assumptions that underpin the CWRF:

  • City Water systems cannot be thought of in isolation from the hydrological and its decision-making context within which it sits, including the basins, the built infrastructure and the national socio-political and economical context.
  • There are important interdependencies that exist between the city, the water system and other Systems (such as energy, food supply and communications), which affect the resilience of the city.

In simple terms, governance for urban water resilience means to understand who does what, at what level, how and why to make a city more resilient to the vulnerabilities affecting its water system.