Cities in Southeast Asia (SEA) are exceedingly diverse, ranging from hubs of the global economy to small marketplaces in remote areas. Most countries in SEA, despite large regional disparities at the beginning of the 2020s, have made significant achievements on a number of indicators in the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) framework. For example, significant progress has been made in achieving SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure). The region has also achieved considerable success on the SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) indicator for “Access to safe drinking water services” in the last decade. However, little progress has been made on almost all other water-related subgoals, as is also the case with SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 13 (climate action) .
The success of Agenda 2030 will mainly be decided in cities. By 2050, nearly 70% of humans are expected to live in urban areas, making urbanization one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends, and intensifying the economic, social, environmental and cultural challenges and opportunities. In its shared vision for a better and more sustainable future, the New Urban Agenda (NUA) underlines the importance of water for the development of cities and human settlements. Urban planning processes should incorporate integrated water resources planning and management, considering urban-rural linkages, at the local and territorial scales, ensuring the participation of multiple sectors, stakeholders, and communities. The NUA calls for strengthening the role of small and intermediate cities in enhancing food security and nutrition systems, providing access to sustainable, affordable, adequate, resilient, and safe housing, infrastructure and basic needs services, and facilitating effective trade links across the urban-rural continuum .
Many secondary and tertiary cities and towns in SEA are experiencing rapid but quite often insufficiently planned and managed developments which result in major challenges: the sustainable protection of water resources; the reduction of vulnerability to climate change and disaster risks; and the effective provision of water-related public services for all citizens. In other words, they are struggling to establish more livable, climate change-resilient and inclusive cities. Often insufficiently equipped with institutional capacities, effective management and financing models, adequate administrative mandates and effective procedures, many city administrations in SEA find it difficult to develop and maintain efficient and sustainable water infrastructure, to ensure the comprehensive provision of water related public services, and to protect their water resources. Furthermore, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban residents has drawn more attention to the spatial and socio-economic aspects of cities .