PolyUrbanWaters is a research and project network funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research that aims to enhance polycentric approaches to urban development and integrated water management in Southeast Asia. The network comprises academic institutions, municipalities, government agencies, civil society organizations, and private-sector stakeholders from Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Germany.

The project’s primary objective is to improve the resilience, sanitation, inclusion, and attractiveness of urban areas in Southeast Asia by promoting polycentric approaches to urban development and integrated water management. To achieve this, the network has been working on the ground in three pilot cities in Cambodia (Krong Kratie), Indonesia (Sleman), and Laos (Sam Nuea), where they have developed practical tools that enable municipalities to implement polycentric approaches to urban development and cross-sectoral water management.

On March 14 to 17, the PolyUrbanWaters project organized a symposium to present and discuss crucial results of baseline assessments and strategic options for water-sensitive development in partner cities. The symposium aims to foster a region-wide policy-academic dialogue between decision-makers, community leaders, civil society organizations, and academia. During the symposium, Prof. Thammarat Koottatep, Co-Director of the Global Water and Sanitation Center @ the Asian Institute of Technology Thailand, presented challenges of wastewater management in secondary cities. Wastewater management is critical to urban development and essential for the health and well-being of urban populations.

The growth of small and medium-sized secondary cities presents additional challenges for wastewater management. The lack of institutional capacity and knowledge to develop economies and attract investment for infrastructure development in these cities leads to unplanned urbanization and environmental degradation, which can adversely affect water resources and put the health of the population at risk. Effective wastewater management involves various processes, including collection, treatment, and disposal of wastewater. Without proper wastewater management systems in place, untreated wastewater can contaminate water resources, leading to various waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

The PolyUrbanWaters project has made significant strides towards enhancing urban water management in Southeast Asia. Through its pilot initiatives, the project has demonstrated the feasibility of polycentric approaches to urban development and integrated water management, enabling municipalities to improve resilience, sanitation, inclusion, and attractiveness in their urban areas. The symposium is a vital part of the project’s efforts to foster dialogue, collaboration, and innovation, ensuring that its impact reaches beyond its pilot cities and benefits the broader Southeast Asian region.