The study of resilience in the face of large physical and climatic change has emerged as an important area of research. But while the physical variables under study are easily identified, the notion of resilience itself remains nebulous. In recent years, it has been taken to mean both mitigation and adaptation, concepts that are often used in interchangeably or in conjunction (sometimes hyphenated as “adaptation-mitigation”). But mitigation and adaptation could in fact be antithetical to one another: the first refers to the ability to carry on “business as usual” activities (R1) while the second rejects the business as usual paradigm and recognizes new realities (R2).
This tension poses a special challenge to water security in cities. The case of a severe drought in Singapore, the longest in 130 years, illustrates how these conceptual difficulties create policy problems. Water security has largely been defined as R1. But in the face of large-scale climatic change events, R2, especially along the human dimensions, becomes increasingly relevant. This paper argues that people and the psychological requirements of resilience, are key components of the eco-system of a city. Resilience therefore needs to be a teleological concept that speaks to the desired ends or futures of the community in question, whether in infrastructure, or human development. This more complex but more accurate concept of resilience provides greater precision and practical guidance for urban water security.