Nature-Based Solutions for Water Management in the Peri-Urban


The Project

NATWIP is the acronym for a project titled “Nature-Based Solutions for Water Management in the Peri-Urban: Linking Ecological, Social and Economic Dimensions”. This is a large transnational research project funded under the 2018 Joint Call of the WaterWorks2017 ERA-NET Cofund, which is a joint project initiated by the Joint Programming Initiative on 'Water Challenges for a Changing World' (or the Water JPI). Water JPI aims to tackle the ambitious challenge of achieving sustainable water systems for a sustainable economy in Europe and abroad, and the focus of the 2018 joint call was on “Closing the Water Cycle Gap – Sustainable Management of Water Resources”. Within the frame of this initiative, the project NATWIP acknowledges the funding received from the European Commission and FORMAS (Sweden), MINECO – AEI (Spain), WRC (South Africa), and RCN (Norway).

Project NATWIP intends to develop and share knowledge on nature-based solutions (NBS) for addressing challenges confronting the water cycle in peri-urban areas, with significant direct implications for the urban core areas as well. NBS for water have been envisaged as central to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development because these are rooted in integrated approaches and generate social, economic and environmental co-benefits.

The co-benefits generated by NBS cross-cut the fields of human health and livelihoods, food and energy security, sustainable economic growth, decent jobs, ecosystem rehabilitation and maintenance, and biodiversity. It is argued that the substantial value of these co-benefits can tip investment decisions in favor of NBS. Further, effective implementation of NBS involves the participation of many different stakeholders including those at local level. It should thus encourage consensus-building and help raise social awareness about why and how to adopt NBSs to improve water security.

NATWIP aims to contribute to closing the water cycle gap by exploring the potential that nature-based solutions (NBS) offer to address water management challenges in landscape areas that have been neglected because they lie in the transition zones between the urban and the rural, commonly referred to as ‘peri-urban’ areas. The overall purpose is to exchange learning experiences among the partnership and promote the debate between science and society in order to increase awareness among practitioners and users on the application of NBS to manage different hydrological challenges such as water scarcity, pollution, and risks related to extreme events like flood and drought.

NATWIP’s specific objectives are as follows:

  1. Review international experiences to identify barriers, lessons learned and challenges in the implementation of different NBS to deal with water management in the peri-urban.
  2. Establish a methodological framework as a tool to analyze the potentials, content and benefits of NBS in the peri-urban context, considered from ecological, socio-economic, technological, policy, planning, governance, institutional perspectives, and including different types of stakeholders (authorities, administrators, associations, scientists and the public).
  3. Apply the methodological framework to conduct an analysis at a number of case study sites to:
    • complete a scenario study to identify the main challenges for implementing different forms of NBS in the peri-urban (from ecological, socio-economic, political, planning, governance, institutional perspectives);
    • compare situations in the different case study sites to draw generalizations at the pan-European level, including some comparisons of NBSs with more conventional solutions;
    • reflect on the overall socio-economic-policy and governance context that would favor the implementation of NBS in the peri-urban context.
  4. Create a common narrative to deal with water challenges specific to peri-urban areas and the implementation of NBS. This would be attempted by developing best practices guidelines and policy recommendations for promoting NBS in the peri-urban for closing the water cycle gaps.

The project includes case study sites in Sweden, Norway, Spain, South Africa, India and Brazil where the project partners have established contacts and ongoing work. 

In order to reach its goal, project NATWIP has adopted an innovative approach, which comprises four components, that correspond to its four research objectives:

  1. The first component relates to review of international experiences on NBS primarily through desk reviews of existing international literature on NBS for water with a view to identify factors affecting their implementation and effectiveness, focusing on the peri-urban context. This is supported by interviews with leading experts in the field. The review is guided by a ‘Framework Proposal’ that considers social, economic & ecological sustainability dimensions related to NBS and the factors affecting these.
  2. The second component is built upon the findings from the above exercise, developing the ‘framework proposal’ into a descriptive multidimensional assessment tool containing specific assessment criteria relevant to the peri-urban context. These criteria are meant to help assess the feasibility &/or value of NBS for water & even draw the strengths and weaknesses of NBS versus conventional engineering solutions with regard to overcoming water challenges such as scarcity, water quality degradation, restoration or/and naturalization of water cycle in the peri-urban, in order to ultimately close the water cycle gap.
  3. In the third component, the assessment framework developed above will be applied to understand and assess existing NBS and conventional engineering solutions for addressing water cycle gaps in 8 different case study sites spread across the participating countries. The case studies are to be based on literature survey as well as field-based first-hand research, with data collection through interviews and focus groups with concerned stakeholders. The case studies are described separately.
  4. The final component concerns creation of a common narrative. Narratives are an effective method to systematically gather, analyze, and represent people’s stories as told by them. It draws on reasoned analysis as well as empirical observation and as such is an ideal method for reflecting, together with relevant stakeholders, on principles and indicators for designing and implementing NBS in peri-urban areas within pan-European and international scales. The knowledge generated through the above components are to be analyzed to develop a common narrative that will lead to production of a 'Handbook for Practitioners' that can promote & inspire implementation of NBS in the peri-urban.

NATWIP aims at comprehensive research on NBS regarding water and wastewater-related needs in peri-urban areas. Though increasing interest in NBS in research and action is being expressed globally, this project’s originality lies in: first, developing an innovative multi-disciplinary approach to designing & implementing NBS for water in the peri-urban, especially taking socio-economic perspective; second, evaluating the strengths & weaknesses of NBSs for water vis-a-vis conventional engineering solutions from economic, ecological & social perspectives; and third, adopting an evidence-based integrated approach rooted in European and international contexts to develop tools to promote NBS for water in the peri-urban.

The innovation of the project basically lies in development of an interdisciplinary methodological framework to assess NBS for water and applying it to understand case situations spread across multiple European & international sites. The innovation further lies in creating a common narrative & hence best practices to deal with water challenges in the peri-urban through implementation of NBS. The innovativeness & comprehensiveness of the project can be further seen as represented by the 3 dimensions within which it operates: i) academic; ii) spatial; & iii) socio-political.

Academically, NATWIP is foreseen to promote knowledge exchange through interdisciplinarity approach to foster interaction between disciplines to develop a common language & a change in understanding. Spatially, the case studies are foreseen to illustrate NBS for water in six countries spread throughout four different continents having distinct environmental, economic and social characteristics. This will help generate broad-based information regarding NBS’ best practices and challenges for water and wastewater needs, serving as examples of solutions in different contexts. Socio-politically, the scientific data generated will be both dependent on inputs from local stakeholders and a useful tool in the creation of policy and action instruments, establishing a connection among science, society and decision-makers. The inclusion of stakeholders in the process would improve acceptance regarding the project, as well as amplify their awareness on water challenges and on the importance and scope of their participation in NBS activities for sustainable water resources management.

Research in NATWIP is implemented through four workpackages, which correspond to the different objectives outlined earlier. Every workpackage has a leader, each is carried out jointly by all the partners, bringing in their disciplinary strengths, and thus every partner is involved in every workpackage which facilitates mutual learning hands-on.

Led by UPC, Spain, the first workpackage comprises review of international experiences of NBS for water management.

Under the leadership of IIS-Rio, Brazil, the second workpackage establishes a comprehensive methodological framework for assessment of NBS for water in the peri-urban, integrating ecological, social and economic dimensions.

Led by NGI, Norway, in the third workpackage, the NBS assessment framework is applied to study and analyze the case study sites. The 3-fold aim of the case studies is to: i) undertake a scenario study ii) carry out a comparative analysis, and iii) identify conditions that favor the implementation of NBS on water in the peri-urban and their driving forces.

Under the leadership of Stellenbosch University, South Africa, together with Södertörn University, the fourth workpackage aims at creating a narrative based on reasoned analysis, empirical observations & reflections gathered together with relevant stakeholders, on principles, processes & indicators for designing & implementing NBS for water in peri-urban areas.