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World indicators on the environmentWorld Energy Statistics - Time SeriesEconomic inequality

World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

5. Urban Priorities for Action


Many of the environmental problems outlined in the previous chapters--and their impacts on health, ecosystems, and economic productivity--result from political and economic factors rather than from the process of urbanization itself (1). Intermittent or inadequate water supplies, for example, are rarely due to true freshwater shortages; more often, they can be attributed to misguided priorities, inappropriate pricing, or poor management. Urban sprawl is driven less by the need for more urban land and more by zoning regulations, land speculation, and political interests.

Even with strong political will, improving the management of urban environmental problems is far from easy. Governments face a host of factors that hinder their ability to respond to urban environmental problems. In the developed and developing world alike, local government mandates are expanding, adding new tasks such as industrial pollution control to the traditional responsibilities of water and sanitation provision. Often these mandates have not been matched with appropriate control over revenues and budget allocations. In addition, many governments lack the technical knowledge or the staff to adequately enforce environmental regulations. The relentless pace of urban growth in many cities exacerbates these problems, far outstripping the capacity of governments to manage and respond to demands for infrastructure and urban services.

Yet the picture is not all bleak. Many innovative and effective approaches to environmental management have been or are being undertaken by cities around the world. A few broad lessons emerge. First and foremost, it is increasingly apparent that local governments cannot tackle urban environmental problems alone. Coping with urban problems will require that responsibilities be shared and actions taken by a host of actors, including national governments, local governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), communities, the private sector, international donors, and other external support agencies. Future urban environmental management should place a high priority on strengthening the institutional capacity of local administrators to develop and maintain these partnerships.

Second, in the face of growing responsibilities and limited funds, cities must make strategic choices about which problems to tackle first. Setting priorities by assessing the scale of impact and the cost as well as the ease of the solution is an important component of good management. (See Box 5.1.) Here again, local groups should be involved in identifying the key problems and their causes, as well as the capabilities of the community to address the problems (2). Urban managers will also need reliable and recent data on environmental conditions. Most data on urban environmental conditions comes from a few large cities--Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Jakarta, New York, and Bombay--yet these cities represent only a fraction of the urban areas worldwide.

At the same time, attention must be given to cost-effective technologies, greater economic efficiency, and cost recovery (3). Charging the full cost of water production and supply, for instance, can be a powerful incentive for conservation, just as charging the full cost of driving can be. (See Chapter 4, "Urban Transportation.") In addition, improving the maintenance and efficiency of existing facilities can save money and reduce or delay the need for large investments in new facilities. Emphasis on pollution prevention is sorely needed; it is often more efficient to prevent pollution in the first place--through cleaner manufacturing processes, for instance--than to pay to clean it up later.

Finally, cities will have to rely on a diverse range of policy tools, from economic and regulatory instruments (to address specific problems such as air or water pollution) to broader planning strategies (such as land use planning and community involvement). (See Box 5.2.)

The following sections examine how cities are addressing some of the most critical urban environmental problems: inadequate water supply and poor sanitation, water pollution, outdoor and indoor air pollution, and solid waste. The list of policy options discussed here is by no means exhaustive; rather, it is intended to give a sense of the diversity of approaches being tried in cities across the globe. Nor should any one solution be considered a panacea for all cities; each has its own unique circumstances. After reviewing economic and regulatory instruments, the chapter then looks at land use planning as a broader approach to addressing environmental concerns.

Topics Covered in Chapter 5Priorities for Action: Water and Sanitation
 Promoting Water ConservationPriorities for Action: Solid Waste ManagementPriorities for Action: Air PollutionPriorities for Action: Land Use

BoxesRanking Bangkok's Urban Environmental ProblemsForging a Combined Approach to Urban Pollution ControlCosts and Benefits of Water and Air Pollution Controls in Santiago
•Integrated Transportation and Land Use Planning Channel 
 Curitiba's Growth

References and Notes

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