Characterizing and Contextualizing the Water Challenges of Megacities

Enjie Li, Joanna Endter-Wada, Shujuan Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


We characterize and compare water challenges confronting the 28 megacities of the world in 2014. Relying on existing literature and diverse primary data sources, we present a unique portrait at a global scale of the water implications of the rapid growth in megacities. We find that differentiating and analyzing the complexity of megacities' water problems based on geographic contexts, historical development trajectories, urban population growth rates, and forms of urban expansion helps explain the nature of the various water management problems they confront. Two governance features also shed light on megacity water challenges: fragmentation resulting from forms of megacity urban expansion; and, urban dualism resulting from contradictions between historical and cultural legacies and the rise of global engineering and technological norms for water management. The increasing vulnerability of megacities to climate change poses risks as well as opportunities for a more collective response to address this global phenomenon. Our analysis raises important questions and offers guidance about the future trajectories of many more large cities around the world that are on their way to becoming megacities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)589-613
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Governance
  • Megacities
  • Planning
  • Sustainability
  • Urbanization
  • Water challenges

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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