A Growing World Without Water
By Isabella Akker
B.S. in Earth Systems, 2013
Read about the CityNature project on the OutWest student blog. Over the summer, a team of undergraduate student researchers combined spatial analysis with innovative mining of planning document text, photographs, social media, and published historical narratives to explain why nature is unevenly distributed in and across cities.
Thirsty? Go to a water fountain, grab a bottle of water, or walk to a river. But what will you do thirty years from now? I’ve spent the last eight weeks looking for answers to questions surrounding what many of us take for granted—adequate, easy access to clean water.
Armed with a large dataset for over 6,000 cities worldwide, all with populations between 50,000 and 1 million, I worked to visualize and quantify worldwide water “stress” through a combination of proxy variables for measuring water quantity, water quality, and water delivery in these 6,000 cities. In turn, my team and I hope that this would demonstrate how prepared these cities are for growth both economically and socially.
Unsatisfied with the three variables’ inability to truly reflect the conditions “on the ground” for the more than 6,000 cities and over 195 countries, I decided to go further, and combined these three variables with others—including foreign investment, freshwater withdrawals, improved urban water and sanitation access, and population growth in a given country—to get a better sense of the challenges ahead of us as a global society dependent on water for survival. I am now working on visualizing the results of this model and creating an interactive webpage for others to modify my model and come to their own conclusions.
As a whole, however, the data shows a result that is both alarming and promising: of the more than 6,000 cities, most have a sufficient quantity of available water and are generally not in arid regions. Nonetheless, most cities—including some in the US, Europe, and other developed countries—still have poor levels of water quality, and even worse levels of water access, or delivery. It proves what many experts working in developing countries already suspect: that we need much, much more investment in water and sanitation infrastructure if we are to avoid outbreaks of disease and keep city populations—and economies—growing at their current pace.
This research allowed me to explore a different topic (urbanization) and gain new skills (such as through using Tableau, ArcGIS, R, and other software), and the experience will likely help shape my views and future work, both on cities and on areas outside of them. I was lucky to work with a great team of fellow researchers and mentors, and am grateful to have had this opportunity to work on such an important topic.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »