City Populations to Become Global Majority. Little Provision Made for Urban Environment.

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Ismail Serageldin, World Bank Vice President for Environmentally Sustainable Development, Michael Cohen, World Bank Senior Adviser, and Andrew Steer, World Bank Director of Environment Department, are available for interviews. To schedule time, please call 703-820-2244 or 202-473-5690.

The World Bank’s second annual conference on environmentally sustainable development entitled: The Human Face of the Urban Environment is being held September 19-21 at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC. [/sws_white_box]

Some 50 percent of the world’s population will live in cities and towns for the first time in history within the next 10 years, but many urban residents, especially in the developing world, dwell in increasingly filthy environments that threaten their health and stunt economic progress, the World Bank says.

The World Bank estimates that more than 1 billion urban dwellers, or 65 percent of the total urban population in developing countries, breathe unhealthy air. At least 170 million people in these urban areas lack a source of drinkable water near their homes, while 350 million city residents lack adequate sanitation.

The urban population of the developing world is growing at an annual average rate of 3.8 percent, and will increase from 1.4 billion urban residents in 1990 to 3.6 billion in 2020, an increase of 2.2 billion, the Bank says. In simple terms, the urban population is growing at a rate of 1 million people per week, as if another New Orleans grew from scratch every seven days.

“We advocate a people-centered environmentalism, which must focus on cities, because that is where the majority of humanity is going to be living,” says Lewis T. Preston, President of the World Bank.

In 1994, the Bank lent $1.4 billion to fund solutions to what is called the “brown agenda” — the host of environmental problems affecting cities. It loaned another $1.0 billion in 1994 for the “green agenda,” which focuses on enhancing natural resource managment and protecting the rural environment, bringing cumulative lending for all aspects of the environment to $9 billion over the past decade.

The Bank is sponsoring its second annual conference on environmentally sustainable development in Washington, September 19-21 entitled: The Human Face of the Urban Environment. Henry Cisneros, (U.S.) Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will deliver the keynote address on September 19, at 2:30 p.m. EDT, at the National Academy of Sciences.

“The title of the conference shows the direction in which we want to head,” says Mr. Preston. “We want to put people first, including in environmental programs. Protecting the rain forest and protecting bio-diversity is important because it will preserve natural resources for the next generation, but cleaning up cities will help hundreds of millions of people right now.”

For the first time, the conference will bring together mayors, cabinet-level environmental and urban ministers and leaders of non-government organizations from around the world to focus on urban environmental issues. The World Bank states that the only way to resolve local urban problems is to make them part of the national debate in each country, and therefore to develop a national solution.

“For a true, people-centered environmentalism, all of the actors have to be at the table, which is why this conference is very valuable,” says Ismail Serageldin, World Bank Vice President for Environmentally Sustainable Development.

“National and local leaders from both developing countries and industrialized ones will attend the conference, because urban areas around the world face many of the same problems — unlike other global concerns such as population where the issues are different: in the developing countries it is reducing population growth, while in the industrialized countries it is the aging of the population,” Mr. Serageldin adds.

The Bank says that urban concerns common to industrialized and developing countries include:

  • Air and water pollution.
  • Shortage of modern physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
  • The need for shelter and sanitation.
  • Unemployment.
  • Social problems reflected in crime and violence.
  • Fiscal imbalances.
  • Insufficient taxing authority.

In the post World War II period, developing countries have been transformed from a world of villages to a world of cities and towns. Most of the increases in urban population are caused by rapid growth within urban centers rather than from large-scale rural-to-urban migrations.

Cities have become the main engines of economic growth, even in rural-based economies. In many countries, for example, city residents compose just one-third of the total population but generate 60 percent of national GDP (gross domestic product). In addition, city dwellers are expected to generate 80 percent of all GDP growth that developing countries will experience through the year 2000.

There are many examples of environmental impact on urban dwellers, the overwhelming majority of whom are poor and live in developing countries:

  • In Bangkok, Thailand, excessive exposure to lead causes 200,000-500,000 cases of hypertension, resulting in 400 deaths a year. Rough estimates suggest that children with lead poisoning lose an average of four or IQ points by the age of seven, with long-term implications for their productivity as adults.
  • In Mexico City, annual health costs from air pollution are estimated to exceed $1.5 billion. Abnormally high levels of suspended particulates have caused an average of 2.4 lost work days per person per year and 6,400 deaths per year; lead exposure may contribute to as much as 20 percent of the incidence of hypertension in adults and almost 30 percent of all children have unhealthy lead levels in their bloods.
  • In Jakarta, Indonesia, health costs associated with selected air pollutants (lead, suspended particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide) are estimated to be $200 million a year, including the costs of avoidable deaths.
  • In the urban and peri-urban areas of Peru, the cholera epidemic of 1991, which was due to inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene, caused more than 320,000 cases, 2,600 deaths and an estimated $1 billion in losses from reduced agricultural and fisheries exports and tourism.
  • In metropolitan Manila, Philippines, the potential productivity impact of air pollution is approaching an estimated $20 million a year, while waterborne contamination is responsible for a potential yearly productivity loss of almost $100 million.

Megacities, Poverty and Urban Pollution

The number of large urban agglomerations with populations greater than one million will grow worldwide from 288 in 1990 to 391 by the end of the century. Of the 26 megacities (of 10 million people or more) that will exist early in the next century, 21 of them will be in the developing world. India’s example is striking. Its urban population doubled between 1971 and 1991 — from 109 million to 208 million. Asia alone will have 13 megacities and 171 cities with populations of more than one million.

“The massive growth in the numbers of urban poor, combined with the lack of urban planning on sanitation, air pollution, water supply and transportation, is what is making the environmental problems so intractable,” says Mr. Serageldin.

One of the prime examples is Bombay, India, which has a population that rises by more than 500,000 people a year and is expected to reach 18 million people by the year 2000. The population of Sao Paulo, Brazil, will reach 25 million in two decades. That figure is equal to the entire world’s urban population at the dawn of the industrial revolution in 1770.

Today, 25 percent of the world’s urban population lives in absolute poverty, and many millions more live in substandard conditions. Urban poverty is growing faster than rural poverty in many parts of the world, because of macroeconomic adjustments, stemming from the lifting of subsidies for food, shelter and essential services. Inadequate sanitation is a major cause of sickness in cities and is a drain on urban economies, stemming from lost work days due to illness and the costs of treating pollution-related illnesses, and cleaning up the mess left behind.

The most critical and immediate problems facing cities in developing countries are the health impacts of urban pollution that derive from inadequate water, sanitation, drainage and solid waste services, poor urban and industrial waste management, and air pollution.

In most low-income cities, the pollutant of primary concern is human excreta. In Cairo, for example, 70 percent of the city is connected to the public sewerage system, but only 15 percent of the waste water is fully treated. Of the remainder, 25 percent is partially treated and 60 percent is carried raw via open canals to a lake and then to the sea.

In the entire developing world, only 40 percent of urban dwellings are connected to sewers, and where there is sewerage, more than 90 percent of the waste water is discharged without treatment. One estimate says that the costs of pollution problems alone in developing countries exceed 5 percent of GDP.

“Clearly, improving the situation of urban poor is an essential pre-condition for reducing urban environmental hazards,” says Mr. Preston. “The Bank has moved vigorously in recent years to address these problems.”

Among Bank -supported projects directly aimed at improving the urban environment are:

  • Mexico City — The critical air pollutants in the Mexico City metropolitan area are ozone, fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide and lead. Levels of the first two far exceed health-based norms, and their concentrations are increasing or holding constant. Levels of lead, which can hamper mental development in children, have been reduced greatly in the past few years, however.

    To assist, the Bank has loaned $220 million that, in part, will: give support to develop, promulgate and enforce emission standards for new vehicles; help fund the installation of vapor recovery systems at service stations; help prepare an integrated Transport and Air Quality Management Strategy for Mexico City to meet both transport and air quality objectives. This program has been complemented by significant Japanese support.

  • In China, the urban population has grown by about five percent a year during the 1980s and now represents about 30 percent of China’s total population. There are now more than 150 cities with at least 200,000 residents, and thousands of smaller towns, which together account for 70 percent of the country’s industrial production. Many urban industries have outdated plants and fuel systems that generate serious pollution problems.
  • Shanghai, the largest city in China, is also its major economic and commercial center. In 1994 the Bank lent $160 million for environmental improvements in Shanghai including protection of drinking water supplies and ground water quality, pumping stations, water treatment facilities, waste water collection and treatment, as well as the development of solid waste and night soil management strategies. These improvements, complemented by institutional strengthening of local agencies, are expected to contribute to the productivity of economic activities in the metropolitan area.
  • Tunis, Tunisia — By 1980, 55 percent of Tunisia’s population of 6.4 million was urbanized, with 1.2 million living in the capital of Tunis and its suburbs. The rapid urbanization took place without appropriate government policies for public transport companies and inadequate services for both the poor and the middle class.

The Bank approved a project in 1984 to lend $33 million for primary road improvements in greater Tunis. Overall cost of the project was $72.1 million. The project was completed in 1993, and fully achieved its investment-related objectives. The primary road improvement component allowed traffic to bypass the center of the city. Working in tandem with a traffic restraint plan, area signal cooperation and parking fees, the investment also greatly improved central city traffic conditions for public transport and pedestrians, while the secondary road network to outlying districts was improved as well.

  • Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso — The population of Ouagadougou is approximately 750,000 (1991), which represents 50 percent of the urban population of Burkina Faso. Nearly 40 percent of this population has piped-in drinking water, and 70 percent of the households are equipped with unsanitary traditional latrines.

    The World Bank plans to assist in the external financing of $2.7 million for a total $9.7 million project that will: separate collection and treatment of urban and industrial wastes in the most economical manner; encourage inhabitants to construct environmentally safe sanitation in their homes; and bring sanitation to schools.

    Brazil — From 1940 to 1985, the urban population of Brazil grew by 83 million, mainly in nine metropolitan regions, which resulted in the over-exploitation of limited natural resources, i.e., land and water. This, in turn, resulted in the deterioration of quality of life and further constrained development. The many shanty town settlements on river banks and shorelines create direct discharges into the water of multiple forms of waste — untreated municipal and industrial sewerage, uncontrolled storm water drainage, dumping of solid wastes, land erosion and mud slides. Often, soils have become impermeable because of compaction that accompanies urbanization through extended land use and chaotic land occupation disrupts natural drainage patterns. This combined to pollute significantly rivers and waters close to the nine developed regions.

    The Bank is lending $544 million to assist Brazil in developing a cost-effective approach to urban water pollution control, through cost recovery mechanisms to ensure the collection of sufficient revenues to finance required investment subdataprojects. The Project’s specific objectives are:

    • Lower current water pollution levels, and preserve water quality in the cities of Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo State), Curitiba (Parana State), and Belo Horizonte and Vitoria and other cities in Espirito Santo State;
    • Help establish a sound policy for water pollution control in the two project states, including the creation of water basin management units;
    • Help develop a self-financing system for the provision of water services, based as much as possible on the “polluter-pays principle”; and to help start water pollution control projects in some of the most congested urban areas of Brazil.

    Toward an Urban Environmental Strategy

    World Bank experience has shown that there are seven key requirements for effective work on urban environmental problems:

    • Planning strategically — choosing essential policies that can be implemented quickly and have a high degree of success.
    • Improving policy interventions and making strategic choices — Policy makers should seek instruments and incentives that change behavior, resolve conflicts and encourage cooperative arrangements.
    • Merging local and national strategies — Local problems must be broadened to become a key part of the national debate, and of national solutions, with all key actors involved in that debate.
    • Mobilizing public support and participation — urban environments are unlikely to improve without constituents that demand environmental quality.
    • Strengthening service delivery — Upgrading the management of local environmental infrastructure and services for which cities are directly responsible, such as water supply and sanitation.
    • Building institutional capacity — As cities grow and develop, so too must their capacity to manage the urban environment.
    • Closing the knowledge gap — Policies should emphasize routine collection, assessment, use and dissemination of critical (and currently scarce) data within a framework of structured learning about the environment.

    “The world’s growing urban populations need attention,” says Mr. Preston. “Local authorities are closest to the people and best able to assess and meet their environmental needs.”

    Category: Press Release