Euro-Mediterranean Information System on know-how in the Water sector
International portal

Project Switching to sustainable urban water management

Cities around the world are facing a myriad of pressures, including rapid urbanisation and urban sprawl. As a result, authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to manage scarce water resources, deliver water and sanitation services, and dispose of wastewater. At the same time, authorities must do their utmost to minimise the negative impact of such developments on the environment and urban populations.

The SWITCH project proposes a global shift in urban water management for the City of the Future. The project is a partnership between the European Union and a consortium of 32 world wide partners led by UNESCO-IHE and was presented at the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico City on 19 March 2006. It has a budget of 22 million Euros, mainly funded by the European Union within its efforts to promote efficient water use and integrated water management to address water-related Global Change pressures. These pressures include population growth, urbanization and climate-change.

The SWITCH project, which began in February 2006 and lasted for 63 months, challenged existing paradigms by finding and promoting more sustainable alternatives to conventional means of managing urban water. SWITCH project team also carried out action-oriented research in cities that reflected the expressed needs of residents. 

With UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE) as lead partner, SWITCH comprised a consortium of 33 organisations working in 15 European and developing cities across the globe. 

“The consortium worked hard to share knowledge and research on a wide range of tested scientific, technological and socio-economic solutions to urban water management,” said SWITCH project representative Peter van der Steen. “Such solutions are being adopted globally to replace the many different ad-hoc approaches which currently exist and to create sustainable urban water management in the “City of the Future”.

“Learning Alliances” which brought key stakeholders together to create win-win solutions across the water chain, were according to van der Steen, “a core feature of SWITCH”. Other important themes included “Action Research” which saw users addressing problems through innovation; “Multiple Learning” which enabled cities to learn from each other’s experiences and a “Multiple Level Approach” that considered the urban water system at various levels. Finally, renowned experts were heavily involved in the project, bringing essential scientific, technological and financial resources to the programme.

On 18th September 2012, the SWITCH consortium was honoured with the International Water Association's (IWA) Sustainability Award 2012 for “innovation in the practical realisation of sustainable urban water management” at a ceremony in Busan, Korea. According to the IWA, the impressive achievement of the SWITCH project was its demand-led learning Alliances: the notion that what the people want is at the cutting edge of what gets to be done to achieve water-sensitive cities. 

In addition to winning awards, SWITCH has influenced water policy, deployed a comprehensive training package in use by Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and UNESCO-IHE, and produced multiple manuals, guidelines and analysis tools.

With nearly €15 million of funding under the Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6), the SWITCH approach of integrating water management at the city level, through learning alliances, research, demonstrations and training, has been taken up by the World Bank and others. 

Project details

  • Project acronym: SWITCH
  • Participants: The Netherlands (Coordinator), United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Israel, Poland, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Peru, Egypt, Spain, Ghana, China, Brazil, Switzerland, West Bank and Gaza Strip
  • FP6 Project N° 18530
  • Total costs: €21 282 790
  • EU contribution: €14 749 996
  • Duration: February 2006 - April 2011

Project details

Project reference: 18530
Status: Completed

Total cost: EUR 21 282 790
EU contribution: EUR 14 749 996

Programme acronym: 

Contract type: 
Integrated Project

Project number 18530
Subject(s) no translation available , no translation available , no translation available , no translation available
Acronym SWITCH
Geographical coverage Netherlands , United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Israel, Poland, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Peru, Egypt, Spain, Ghana, China, Brazil, Switzerland, Palestine
Budget (in €) 21282790
Programme EU-FP6
Web site

With increasing global change pressures, and due to existing limitations, and un-sustainability factors and risks of conventional urban water management (UWM), cities experience difficulties in efficiently managing the ever scarcer water resources, their uses/services, and their after-use disposal, without creating environmental, social and/or economic damage.

In order to meet these challenges, SWITCH calls for a paradigm shift in UWM. There is a need to convert ad-hoc actions (problem/incident driven) into a coherent and consolidated approach (sustainability driven). This calls for an IP Approach. Research concept SWITCH therefore proposes an action research project which has as a main objective: The development, application and demonstration of a range of tested scientific, technological and socio-economic solutions and approaches that contribute to the achievement of sustainable and effective UWM schemes in 'The City of the future'.

The project will be implemented by different combinations of consortium partners, along the lines of seven complementary and interactive themes. The research approach is innovative for the combination of: action research: address problems through innovation based upon involvement of users.

Learning alliances: to link up stakeholders to interact productively and to create win-win solutions along the water chain; multiple-way learning: European cities learn from each other and from developing countries, and vice versa. Multiple-level or integrated approach: to consider the urban water system and its components (city level) in relation to its impacts on, and dependency of, the natural environment in the river basin (river basin level), and in relation to Global Change pressures (global level).
Instruments and scope: An IP with 30 partners, their resources, and a total budget of 25,191,396 EURO including budget for demonstration activities in 9 Cities in Europe and developing countries.

- The project will develop scientific, technological and socio-economic solutions that contribute to effective urban water management schemes. It deals with challenges related to the quantity and quality of water, ineffective sanitation systems, poor governance and costly water management. The implementation of the results of SWITCH is expected to shape the City of the Future by 2050.

-  Using a very innovative approach, SWITCH is designed to cover all elements of the urban water cycle, from water demand management, to storm water management, waste prevention, treatment and reuse, governance and asset management, to river rehabilitation and eco-hydrology.

- It will integrate three activities: Research, Training and Demonstration, carried out by all partners. Learning Alliances will be set up to ensure smooth exchange of knowledge and experiences between these activity clusters, and between the Demonstration cities


Period [01/02/2006 - 30/04/2011]


  • SWITCH secretariat
    Web site
    Contact Gijzen Huub,
    Phone/fax: +31 15 2151771,