Fundació Catalunya Europa RE-CITY

Kevin Winter

Cities must lead the processes to fight climate change


"A city without water would be an unprecedented disaster." This was how conclusive Kevin Winter was, professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Cape Town and an expert in water management, at the conference he offered in Barcelona as part of the "Facing Climate Change" cycle of the Re -City platform organized by the Catalunya Europa Foundation and BBVA with the support of the Department of "Territori i Sostenibilitat" of Generalitat de Catalunya. 

Under the title "War for Water and Nexus with Energy and Social Justice," Kevin Winter explained his experience in Cape Town, the first major city in the world to face the dreaded "zero day", the moment in which could stop coming out tap water as a result of drought and climate change. In Cape Town, the sword of Damocles had a date: April 22nd. Fortunately, the rains and a series of urgent measures, managed to avoid the fateful day. But the threat continues to hover over 2019 as the level of the reservoirs continues to drop.

For Kevin Winter, all cities in the world, and especially those that are at risk of drought, such as Barcelona, can learn valuable lessons from the Cape Town experience in terms of "Day Zero". To begin with, good water management has to be done, said the expert, quantifying the water demand, knowing the figures and knowing exactly the real demand to try to have a careful control of water consumption. In Cape Town alone, for example, some 2,000 people work by checking and checking water meters.

During this crisis, the South African capital also worked on several fronts to drastically lower the level of water consumption, decreasing to 50 liters per person per day, when in Spain the average was 132 liters per inhabitant per day in 2017, a consumption considered low compared to other countries such as the United States, which exceed 300 liters per person per day. In fact, thanks to a conscious population, in just five weeks Cape Town managed to go from a daily consumption of 700 million liters to 500 million. In parallel, it also invested in improving the infrastructure, as a percentage of water leaks of 14% was detected, an important figure but well below the average of many other metropolises.

According to Winter, cities that are sensitive to the use of water must be encouraged. One of the references of good management and integration of water in cities is Singapore, a pioneer in recycling and water conservation. One of the initiatives carried out in Cape Town, and also in Mexico City, has been the construction of channels that take advantage of rainwater and, in addition, create green areas that favor the appearance of new species that until then never they had been part of the city, and they promote the creation of urban gardens that improve neighborhood coexistence. For professor Kevin Winter, "the social benefits of building this channel have surpassed those of all behavioral programs that had been attempted in Cape Town." The expert insisted that "it is very important to share experiences and information with other cities, and act with time and foresight, not when the crisis is over and we are in the middle of an emergency situation".

"Cities must lead the processes to fight against climate change," said the professor from Cape Town, for whom the key to good management is planning, anticipating crisis situations, looking for danger signs and investing better in the reuse of water. "Climate change is real, we have experienced it, and we need to adapt more quickly," he said, showing data from a study according to which if global warming exceeds 1.5 °C, in 2050, 800 million people in 570 cities of the world will be exposed to the risk of flooding.

"Cities, together with citizens, and partnerships between the public and private sectors, must become agents of change, we can not expect governments to do everything because they do not have the capacity to act so quickly in terms of climate change" , concluded the South African professor before a full auditorium in Antoni Tapies Foundation of Barcelona.

  • Watch the conference in English here.