Nairobi, 19 March 2019—UN-Habitat Executive Director Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif and Prof. Wu Jiang, the Executive Vice President of Tongji University last week jointly launched two publications on rehabilitation of polluted urban rivers and guidelines for net zero carbon villages in Yangtze Delta Region.

The event that took place in Nairobi saw the Executive Director and the Executive Vice President launch “Making Cities Sustainable through Rehabilitating Polluted Urban Rivers: Lessons from China and other Countries” as well as “Making Cities Sustainable through Rehabilitating Polluted Urban Rivers: Lessons from China and other Countries”

Commenting on the first publication, Ms. Sharif said it heighted a pressing global challenge of wastewater management facing today's cities. “Wastewater effluents are major contributors to pollution of urban rivers and other surface water sources, threatening public health, environment and the blue economy. There is an urgent global priority in increasing investments in wastewater collection and treatment to restore the health of heavily polluted urban rivers in order to achieve the global commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals 6 and 11 as well as the New Urban Agenda,” she said.

The Executive Director also pointed that the developing countries need to emulate the China experiences in formulating strategies for wastewater management and river rehabilitation.

She then introduced the second publication “Net Zero Carbon Village Guidelines for Yangtze river delta region” which is a guidebook to assist decision makers and planners with integrated and sustainable planning strategies for a net balanced carbon emission, using passive building design practices, renewable energy technologies, protection of natural heritage and promotion of ecological development.

In his remarks, Prof.  Wu emphasized that Tongji University was committed to putting sustainable development at their core development strategy and would continue to be a constructive partner with UN-Habitat; to share knowledge, innovative solutions and resources, identify important areas of interest and establish mutually beneficial programmes to contribute to the delivery of the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda.

He reiterated that that the two publications were excellent examples of the long-standing partnership between UN-Habitat and Tongji University and hoped that the two organisations would continue to identify cooperation areas and opportunities: including sustainable urban planning, protection of urban heritage, waste management, as well as South-South cooperation.

Prof. Zuxin Xu, Professor of School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Tongji University, presented some of the highlights of the publication “Making Cities Sustainable through Rehabilitating Polluted Urban Rivers: Lessons from China and other Countries” emphasizing on the experiences and lessons from China, where she noted that the major source of river pollution was untreated sewage. She highlighted some of the actions that were taken in China, some of them being: continuously investing in the environmental infrastructure construction and increasing the capacity of urban sewage treatment thereby increasing the water quality and the restoration of the water ecosystem.

She noted some of the major challenges China experienced in improving the water quality of urban rivers: Incomplete sewer systems, damaged sewer pipelines and illegal connection of sewer systems to storm water systems.

“Some of the practices that other countries can learn from the publication include: preventing illegal connections, a need for repair technologies which minimizes disruption of surface traffic, automatic hydraulic flushing, automatic swirl separation, reducing flows of stormwater pipes through an integrated design and operation of both urban drainage systems and small scale detention facilities,” she said

Mr. Thomas Chiramba, a Senior Human Settlements Advisor at UN-Habitat presented a summary of the root causes of urban river pollution: High Population growth, uncontrolled urbanization and industrialization, lack of sewerage infrastructure, inadequate governance, institutional and technical capacity and financial constraints. The four case studies on the publication were: The Lake Victoria Basin, The city of Bethlehem Palestine, Densu Basin in Ghana and the Mekong river basin.

During the moderated discussions, there were three panellists who highlighted the efforts that have been taken by different agencies in managing waste water.

Prof. Li Fengting, Professor and Executive Deputy Dean of UN Environment-Tongji Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development, highlighted the experiences from China that other developing countries can learn from.

Prof. Li noted that China has faced industrialization for the last 40 years leading to soil, water and air pollution. This has become a priorityfor the government, Sanitation is a major problem in the China cities. For example in Shanghai, peple live in very small units (10square feet and 5 square feet in Shangai) leading to major problem in water quality if not well managed.

Mr. Joakim Harlin, Head of the Freshwater Unit, UN Environment highlighted the UN experiences in addressing the wastewater. Mr. Harlin noted that the UN used practical solutions in managing wastewater noting that rivers provide beautiful places for dining, recreation. He wondered why sewage is directed into such useful resources. He noted that the UN frames its solutions on the agenda 2030: Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 11 – target 11.6 “By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management” and SDG 6 – target 6.3 “By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally”. UN-Habitat and World Health Organization are the custodians for monitoring the indicators for this target.

Principal Scientist with Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) Dr. Kelvin Khisa narrated experiences from the industrial research and the disconnect between research and practice. He noted  that Kenya as a country had a linear economy where waste is dumped after use, this is very unsustainable. We are very reactive as a country, there is need for a change and go circular by reusing and recycling waste, which is more sustainable.

In her closing remarks Ms. Sharif emphasized that rivers were useful resources for transport and mobility, food supply (fishing) a spiritual place for different cultures therefore while cleaning the urban polluted rivers, there is need to focus on the whole river ecosystem. She said that “there is need for new Re-thinking, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (RRR) and Re-thinking (RRRR) during production, consumption, Cleaning, Capacity building and awareness creation”.