New publication looks at environmental impacts of urban areas

News, 16 March 2015
The UK's Department for International Development (DFID) has published a new guide to the environmental impacts of urban areas authored by IIED's David Satterthwaite.

The rice fields on outskirts of the city of Bandung, Java, Indonesia: urban areas often have damaging impacts on the areas around them (Photo: Ikhlasul Amal, Creative Commons via Flickr)

The publication, entitled 'Urban poverty, urban pollution and environmental management', summarises what is known about the environmental impacts of urban areas with a particular focus on urban pollution and on good practice in reducing it.

A PDF version of the 80-page guide is free to download from the publication website.

The author, David Satterthwaite, is senior fellow in IIED's Human Settlements Group and a leading expert on poverty reduction and environmental problems in urban areas. 

The Evidence on Demand Topic Guides are a series of publications commissioned from experts by DFID. They are designed to pull together the best of current thinking and highlight the main issues of debate. They are primarily aimed at development professionals.

Satterthwaite says: "This Topic Guide on Urban poverty, urban pollution and environmental management was commissioned by the UK government's Department for International Development. It reflects this department's growing interest in urban issues, as well as the very large health impact of pollution on urban dwellers, especially low-income groups."

Urban areas and pollution

Urban areas can be among the world's most healthy places to live and work – but also among the least healthy. Urban pollution encompasses the exposure of urban populations to pathogens (disease-causing agents) and chemical pollutants in the home, workplace, neighbourhood and wider city.

Satterthwaite says: "The guide also considers links between poverty and pollution in urban areas, i.e. where and how do low-income women, men and children get higher exposure, and the impacts on their health, incomes, assets and livelihoods."

The publication also looks at the exposure of populations and ecosystems outside urban boundaries to urban pollution. It also considers global environmental issues, especially climate change. 

Challenges and opportunities

The guide says that a key challenge is the billion or so urban dwellers that live in informal settlements, or in poor quality accommodation in formal settlements. It notes that there is no accurate data on the scale of this population, and there is not enough data on health problems experienced by people living in these environments.

The guide considers links between poverty and pollution in urban areas, i.e. where and how do low-income women, men and children get higher levels of exposure, and the impacts on health, incomes, assets and livelihoods. It focuses on urban pollution within the informal settlements and cheap boarding houses that are home to around one billion urban dwellers in low- and middle-income nations.

The publication notes that urban environments provide opportunities to tackle environmental issues because of economies of scale, for example by reducing the cost per household of supplying services like fresh water and sewers.

The guide highlights the importance of good governance of urban environments. It says that without effective governments that are able to legislate, regulate and ensure waste collection, management and disposal, urban centres become very dangerous places to live and work.

It says: "Where urban governments have the competence and capacity to ensure their provision, cities can become among the world's healthiest places to live and work."

More about David Satterthwaite's work:
Satterthwaite was a co-ordinating lead author of the chapter on urban adaptation in the Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He is currently working with other IPCC authors on a book on how cities can combine development and climate change adaptation and mitigation. He is editor of the journal Environment and Urbanization. Satterthwaite is also visiting professor at the Development Planning Unit, University College London.

You can read more about his work in his blog posts on this site.

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