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Architecture, Built Environment and Planning: Raised awareness of water systems resilience in the UK, Brazil and India

Dr Maryam Astaraie-Imani, Dr Donya Hajialzadeh, Dr Biniam Ashagre

Research on infrastructure, sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) and water quality has led to raised awareness of resilience-informed decision-making in the face of climate change risks, among stakeholders in the UK, Brazil and India.

It also resulted in an evidence base to support the business case for improved resilience of interdependent critical infrastructure to climate change, and delivery of continuing professional development training in the design of resilience-informed interventions for water systems management.

Maryam Imani

Dr Maryam Imani

Maryam is a Chartered Civil Engineer and an Associate Professor with extensive research experience in water and waste water-related projects.

Find out more about Dr Maryam Imani Explore ARU researchers' original work via our open access repository, ARRO

Research summary

Three complimentary research projects have generated greater understanding of the impact of climate change on water systems and interdependent critical infrastructure resilience. The projects are:

  • Water Quality Resilience and Artificial Neural Networks (WQRGIS/WQR-ANN) – PI Dr Maryam Imani
  • Resilience-Informed Urban Management with the Incorporation of Sustainable Draining Systems in Brazil and India (RESoURce@Brandia) – PI Dr Maryam Imani; Co-PI Dr Chris Maidment; Postdoctoral researcher Dr Biniam Ashagre
  • RV-DSS: An industry-friendly resilience-based interdependency assessment tool – PI Dr Donya Hajializadeh; Co-I Dr Maryam Imani.

Through these projects, the research teams have been able to develop evaluation, assessment and interactive tools that can be used by relevant end users. They have also engaged with wider practitioner communities in the UK, Brazil and India.

The Water Quality Resilience and Artificial Neural Networks project (WQRGIS/WQR-ANN) is a partnership between the UK (ARU, Imperial College London) and Brazil (University of Campinas, University of São Paulo, and São Paulo State’s Environment Agency (CETESB)).

It developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven model to predict the resilience of surface water resources in Brazil’s São Paulo region, to map the spatial vulnerability of water systems to climate change, and to identify areas in need of adaptation strategies.

Although the ANN predictive model was validated against the São Paulo region, the underlying research demonstrated that the principles could be replicated for similar regions by other decision-makers.

The success of WQRGIS/WQR-ANN led to a second project, RESoURce@Brandia. This is a trilateral partnership between the UK (ARU, Peterborough City Council), India (Madras Institute of Technology) and Brazil (Department of Hydraulics and Sanitation, Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar); University of São Paulo; and São Paulo State’s Environment Agency (CETESB)). It developed an optimisation model to support resilience-driven SuDS design and planning in developing countries.

The model integrated ‘high resilience, low cost, improved quality of life’ strategies into a decision-making framework to guide effective and resilience-informed urban planning to tackle emerging climate change and development-induced challenges.

The resilience-driven framework was gamified as the interactive tool SPRSim, using serious gaming, which gives a virtual assessment of the impact that different SuDS solutions can have on urban resilience. SPRSim allows decision-makers to evaluate SuDS solutions against their financial, environmental and social costs (ie pillars of sustainability).

A third project, RV-DSS: An industry-friendly resilience-based interdependency assessment tool, is a partnership between ARU, Transport Scotland, Scottish Water, Scottish and Southern Energy, and Atkins.

Using a study of critical infrastructure networks in North Argyll, the research team developed an industry-friendly Resilience and Vulnerability Decision Support System (RV-DSS) tool. The tool measures water, transport and energy network resilience and vulnerability to hazard events. It also offers cost-benefit analysis, allowing asset owners to make evidence-based decisions.

Bus driving along a flooded city street

Summary of the impact

  • Raised awareness in the in the UK about critical infrastructure interdependencies resilience and the importance of shared interventions to tackle common challenges and shared new visualisation and analytical tools with industry partners
  • Enhanced knowledge of water quality managers in Brazil about the effectiveness of using machine learning techniques for improving resilience-informed decision-making
  • Shaped knowledge and understanding of key stakeholders in Brazil and India about resilience-informed Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) design and exploitation development for enhanced flood and water quality management as well as improved quality of life


Dr Imani and her team's research has shaped knowledge and understanding on resilience-informed SuDS incorporation based on four pillars of water quality, water quantity, amenity and biodiversity among key decision-makers – including engineers, public health professionals, local authorities and policymakers – in the state of São Paulo in Brazil and in India.

They held several seminars, workshops, lectures, and focus groups between 2018-2020 with participants from the UK, Brazil and India.

Dr Imani was invited by CETESB to talk about WQR-ANN project and its findings and the role that Machine Learning techniques play in effective assessment and delivery of water systems resilience, in their headquarter office in São Paulo with over 3,000 employees.

The ANN-based resilience model developed in WQRGIS/WQR-ANN project was shared with engineers through an Institution of Civil Engineers CPD workshop.

Training sessions were also held to share the interactive tools that allow urban planners, asset owners and other stakeholders to develop a greater understanding of planning, maintaining and managing water infrastructure facing climate-induced challenges.

Formal feedback indicated a significant increase in attendees’ knowledge and understanding of resilience-informed decision-making, the challenges around that, and ways of incorporating water systems resilience into day-to-day business practices.

The effectiveness of the tool to identify ‘hot spots’ of flooding (ie vulnerable areas) was tested and validated by a series of site visits arranged by the São Paulo Civil Defence Department. This was successful and the Department initiated a review of the role that the resilience-driven interactive tool could play in supporting their SuDS and flood management decision-making.

Peterborough City Council has used the results from the RESoURce@Brandia project to inform its risk management strategies and improve the sustainability of its drainage system.

ARU's Brazilian partners (UFSCar and São Paulo University) have used Dr Imani and collaborators' research to raise awareness of water resilience among the next generation of Brazilian architects, engineers and urban planners by including learning into their postgraduate course, Águas Urbanas: Interdisciplinary Studies for Resilience and Sustainability. Dr Imani helped to support the delivery of this course.

Read more about more about research and knowledge-sharing.

In the UK, Dr Imani and collaborators' research has raised awareness of infrastructure resilience and supported improved management practices.

They shared the results of her research, and the visualisation and analytical tools they developed.

Results from the RV-DSS project have encouraged practitioners to consider the interdependencies between infrastructure systems when developing management solutions – the better to ensure resilience to climate change, and in particular the impact of extreme weather events.

The RV-DSS tool has been shared with the project’s critical infrastructure partners. Meanwhile the project’s findings have been shared with the wider construction industry through the Construction Industry Research and Information Association, and an impact seminar at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Read more about more about raised awareness in the uk.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We have mapped our REF 2021 impact case studies against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs, adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, are an urgent call for action. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

This case study is mapped to SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, target 6.5.

See also

Read the full REF 2021 impact case study for UoA 13: Raised awareness of water systems in the UK, Brazil and India

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