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Urban Development: Managing Some Crucial Areas

So, the process – continuous and spontaneous – is on.

Urban Development

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  28 Jan 2023 4:29 AM GMT

Dr BK Mukhopadhyay

(The writer, a noted management economist and an international commentator on business and economic affairs, can be reached at m.bibhas@gmail.com)

So, the process – continuous and spontaneous – is on. Pattern of settlements have been getting extended – from rural to semi urban, urban, metropolitan, and then megalopolitan…Population pressure is on and on – newer challenges before the planners globally!

India's experiences galore too – whither population control!

A clear link has been in existence over the decades between urban poverty, housing shortages and a rising slum population. More Indians now live in slums than the number of people in Italy or the UK. The 30-year rise is the equivalent of adding the current population of Canada or Tanzania or two Syrias.

While it is now a well-known fact that around 31 per cent of India's population, or 377 million out of 1.2+ billion people, live in urban areas, another less well-known fact is there - nearly 17 per cent of this urban population, or more than 65 million people, live in slums, a number that has more than doubled over last three decades.

In the light of the above, let us have a close look at the most vital areas:

Tackling Safe Drinking Water Supply – Minimizing the Wastage:

In India, though accessibility to drinking water has increased considerably during the last decade in particular, yet around 10 per cent of the rural and urban population still does not have access to regular safe drinking water and, during critical summer especially, the condition goes from bad to worse in many parts of the country still.

Excessive extraction of ground water to meet agricultural, industrial and domestic demands is steadily harming the rural and urban settlements. What is more, it has been estimated that India will be water stressed and per capita availability will decline to 1,600 cubic meters. The available annual utilizable water in our country (surface plus ground) stands at 1,100 billion cubic meters. Side by side, the grave concern here is the fact that the total cost of environmental damage in India, as per World Bank estimates, amounts to 4.5 per cent of the GDP and of this 59 per cent results from the health impact of water pollution!

What is more a cause of anxiety is the fact that the adequate availability of safe drinking water is far from being satisfactory. Though water contains organic and inorganic impurities, the main source of diseases are the organic impurities which enter into the water through the soil from cesspools, through manure, or through sewers emptying their contents into the rivers - from which many cities, in particular, get their drinking water supply.

Added to this, the very piping system into the home, unclean water tanks, improper drainage and waste disposal systems, also contribute to impure or contaminated water. Again, presence of excess inorganic matters (iron, lead salts, etc.,) also nicely paves the way for various ailments and diseases to occur, like constipation, dyspepsia, colic, paralysis, kidney disease and sometimes even death.

As opposed to popular perception hardness of water is not a risk to health so long it does not contain disease-causing pathogens and bacteria. Especially, during summer and rainy seasons the position goes from bad to worse – water-borne diseases become rampant. Extreme hot and humid environment are favourite bacteria breeding seasons. Philips, the maker of Philips Intelligent Water Purifier, has rightly, thus, been publicizing for public health awareness that dangerous bacteria produce deadly diseases like jaundice, cholera, typhoid, diphtheria, kidney problems, nervous system problems and even lead to increased risk of cancer.

The immediate need is thus there to invest in reliable, proven and advanced water purification system that guarantees the public – in rural and urban areas – safe and pure drinking water at all times. Latest technology available on this score must be extensively made use of in a time-bound manner to protect the human beings from getting crushed via pollution routes.

This adequately shows that immediate actions are to be taken to protect the wealth – cutting down the number of people without safe access to water in a time-bound manner. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, rightly observes: "We need to begin thinking about better strategies for managing water – for using it efficiently and sharing it fairly. This means partnerships involving not just governments but civil society groups, individuals and businesses".

True. We are still at very early stages of awakening.

A realistic approach - obviously not by holding seminars and observance of World Water Day only – can mitigate the incidence. The responsibility lies equally with the Government sector as well as private sector – checking the unrestricted exploitation of ground water, encouraging planned urbanization, optimization of use (read Israel), restricting the flow of effluents from industrial units to the rivers and obvious enough stricter supervision and effectively discharging the duties and responsibilities related to corporate social responsibility.

As a whole the system should ultimately work as a part of the solution rather than a problem. The need is to move beyond mere use of water to stewardship – to protect what is steadily becoming an increasingly scarce resource - ultimately benefiting the settlements/communities. It is crystal clear that population growth would put further put strain on per capita availability of water. Efforts to enhance drinking water supply must move at a greater speed so as to cover all of the villages with adequate potable water connection/supply.

Waste Management: A Crucial Task:

Again, there exists a relatively silent problem that is growing daily. It has been a stern reality that the question of urban wasteland receives least attention in many cases. The World Bank rightly sees global garbage crisis. A giant wake-up call to policy makers everywhere - the world's city dwellers are fast producing more and more trash in a "looming crisis" that will pose huge financial and environmental burdens, the World Bank has warned. The challenges surrounding municipal solid waste are going to be enormous, on a scale of, if not greater than, the challenges we are currently experiencing with climate change. The World Bank estimated city dwellers will generate a waste pile of 2.2 billion tonnes a year by 2025, up 70 per cent from today's level of 1.3 billion tonnes. The cost of solid waste management is projected to soar too up to US $375 billion a year, from the current US $205 billion.

The growing pile of trash from urban dwellers is as daunting as global warming and the costs will be especially high in poor countries, mainly in Africa. China, which eclipsed the United States as the world's largest waste maker in 2004, generates 70 per cent of the trash in the East Asia-Pacific region. China, other parts of East Asia, parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East have the fastest-growing production of municipal solid waste.

Improving solid waste management, especially in the rapidly growing cities of low-income countries, is becoming a more and more urgent issue. Better waste management and recycling to combat Greenhouse Gas emissions that includes input from all of a city's stakeholders, including citizen groups and the poor and disadvantaged, is the latest prescription, since the age old concept of "throwing away" trash has already received a farewell. Recycling and other measures are required in order to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions that come from inefficient solid waste management practices. On the part of the World Bank it is strongly hoped that once the extent of this issue is recognised, local and national leaders, as well as the international community, will mobilize to put in place programmes to reduce, reuse, recycle, or recover as much waste as possible before burning it – and recovering the energy – or otherwise disposing of it.

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