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Urban Environmental Problems: Urbanisation, Slums and Population, Air, Water and Noise Pollution, Solid Waste,  Cooperation and Partnerships for Urban Planning

Urban Environmental Problems: A Framework for Action

The major challenge to foster healthy urban environment is how related problems can be solved through better urban environmental management. This article spells out the framework for action.

Jyotirmoy Mukherjee

Printable Version of 'Urban Environmental Problems: A Framework for Action'Updated On: 12/18/2005

Urbanisation, Slums and Population, Air, Water and Noise Pollution, Solid Waste,  Cooperation and Partnerships for Urban Planning: A Framework for Action


The rapid urbanization and increase in the population resulted in the depletion and degradation of natural resources. Industrial expansion lead to the increase in the job potential and trade prospects in large cities, which attracted the rural population to migrate to cities and this, further converted the cities into a major slum and concrete jungles. Numbers of slums are increased in metropolitan cities due to acute shortage space for housing. Development exerted pressure on the basic amenities and increased traffic congestion in the cities. Lack of in adequate sewerage treatment facilities, drinking water, encroachment of open spaces, littered garbage in the streets, polluted coastal seawaters are some of the evils of modern urban environment. The water in the rivers became unfit for human consumption due to the constant flow of untreated sewerage and effluents. The incidence of air borne and water borne diseases increased in the population due to the deterioration of air and water quality.

According to a study by the United Nations, the level of urbanization has been estimated to cross 50% in 2005 and 60% by 2025. It has projected the world urban population by 2025 to be 5.2 million, of which 77% would be living in developing countries (United Nations, World Urbanization Project, New York, 1993). Rapid urbanization is expected to continue. Projections show Countries of the Asia-Pacific region are no exception, given their very high population growth rates. Nine out of the worlds thirteen mega-cities, with populations exceeding 10 million, are in Asia. The population in the region is expected to reach 4.8 billion by the year 2025 and 5.3 billion by the year 2050. By 2025 the number of mega-cities in the region will have risen to 20; more than half of the population will live in mega-cities; and another 300 million inhabitants will live in 45 large cities with populations over 5 million.

Slums and Population

Slums are continuing to increase and the housing is dwindling due to influx of rural population into urban areas in search of some means of subsistence livelihood they are not able to find a dwelling place. Most of the dwelling places have no civic facilities like water supply, drainage, roads, transport etc. This conditions lead to many social evils and health problems in the slum areas. Slum dwellers face unhygienic environmental conditions, social, economic, health, educational and cultural problems. The children living in the slum area started suffering from malnutrition, and water borne diseases like diarrhea.

Slum dwellers and those living in the areas without proper water and other supplies dispose of their wastes in unplanned ways that contaminate water and air. Housing should not be taken as an isolated issue but it is interrelated with many aspects. There is need to carry out studies about urban planning in terms of physical space with reference to services, supplies, and transport.

Air Pollution

The present problem of urban air pollution is everywhere in the globe and it is gradually taking a serious dimension and becoming a more fatal with the emission of new pollutants ever day especially due to ever increasing industrial activities.

Sources of Air Pollutants




Fly ash, Smoke, Sulfur oxides, Nitrogen oxides, Carbon dioxide and Carbon monoxide contributed by automobiles exhausts, house hold burning of coal and wood and cigarette smoking.

Industrial process

Sulfur oxides, Nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and Carbon monoxide, Hydrocarbons, CFC and Ozone contributed by thermal power plants and various other industries; Asbestos and Arsenic from industries and Copper smelting processes respectively.

Mining and drilling

Asbestos, Silicon, Coal dust, Glass and other minerals and Solid Particulate Matter.

The most common diseases caused by air pollutants are asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, pulmonary edema and asphyxia. Occupational hazards like asbestosis and silicosis are common among workers of the respective industries. City dwellers suffer from respiratory diseases such as common colds, emphysema, and lung cancer due to the direct exposure to carcinogenic air pollutants. Emission of greenhouses gases adversely affects the earth temperatures and increases the UV radiations.

Water Pollution

In third world and developing countries rapid urban growth often lead to pressurize the water supply system. The growing population is facing acute shortage of water due to the in adequate water supply scheme. Both the surface water and ground water is depleting due to excess water consumption.

The water pollution in the cities is:

  • Ground water table is getting contaminated due to seepage of wastewater and industrial effluents.

  • Polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs), phenols and cyanides seeped into ground water from effluents of plastic, lubricant, rubber and paper industries.

  • Seepage of organic materials into ground water sources from sanitary landfills and from areas with poor sanitation especially in slums and other underdeveloped areas.

  • Contamination by heavy metals

These pollutants lead to disease of the nervous, gastrointestinal and reproductive systems. Some chemicals, low molecular weight chlorinated hydrocarbons and heavy metals like arsenic are proven carcinogens and increase the risk of cancer. In addition to this contaminated water causes cholera, typhoid bacillary dysentery, and infectious hepatitis. The polluted water causes various skin infection in children and adults who take bath in the polluted streams.

Noise Pollution

Noise generated in urban areas can affect large number of population, both in physical and psychological. Chronic over stimulation has pathological consequences and a level of environmental stimulation greater than the optimum is clearly harmful to health resulting in the so-called “diseases of adaptation”. Small children and young people are today found to be afflicted with hearing impairment for no fault of their own. The menace of noise pollution can only be controlled by strict execution of the legislative steps already available.

Solid Waste

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) collection and disposal has been problem in the cities. Solid wastes can be broadly classified into organic and inorganic wastes. Inorganic wastes are further classified as recyclable and non-recyclable ones. Average waste generation ranges from 1000-2500 metric tones/day in the urban areas. Un organized dumping of solid waste contaminates the ground and surface water sources and gives out a foul smell to the neighboring areas.

According to reports from NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) 1996, Indian urban wastes are poor in quality and mainly consist of compostable material and inert materials like dust and ash. 30-57% and 40-54% respectively. Plastic and paper comprises 5%, glass 2.1% and metal junks 2% that are recyclable. The urban area of Asia is currently producing about 760,000 tones of municipal solid waste per day that will amount to 1.8 metric tones per day in the year 2025. Generally only 60% is collected by the urban local bodies or municipal authorities and disposed off unscientifically, the rest 40% remains in and around the locality, which finally find their way to open drains, roads and water bodies and enhances the pollution level of the urban environment, besides, it results in degradation of health and impoverishment of aesthetic beauty of the city.

Major problems faced while collection of waste

  • Bottomless containers and open sheds for refuse collections pose a great environment and hygiene.

  • Small instead of large and heavy vehicles directly transporting to the disposal sites resulting in very low average in terms of load per Km. run.

  • Disposal sites have now come amidst the thick population.

  • Lack of awareness among the population.

According to epidemiological studies workers engaged in solid waste management and rag pickers belonging to the unorganizing sector are exposed to both high health risk and frequently suffer from respiratory tract infection, intestinal parasitic disorders, infections of skin and eyes etc. Children working in open dump yards are prone for diseases like tetanus, gangrene and serum hepatitis.

Mitigation Measures

The management of the urban environment is a complex and difficult task. The increasing momentum of urbanization has both direct and indirect impacts on a variety of concerns and sectors. There is a distinct need to take a good look at how effective historical efforts to resolve urban environmental problems have been of particular concern are the scope and magnitude of these efforts in relation to the needs of a dynamic urban environment. There are five components for effective participatory and transference approach to solve the urban environmental problems and they may be:

Framework for Action

There should be a suitable framework of laws and regulations to address urban environmental problems. Often, the challenge is not to draw up national legislation, but to find the combination of regulations and practices that put "teeth" into the laws.


Even with improved understanding of the issues and a suitable set of laws and regulations, most developing nations need to build their capacity to use the information and the rules effectively. Capability is a blend of science, leadership, management skills, patience, and creativity. It must serve as a guiding principle for local governments, NGOs, schools, community associations, academic and research organizations, and the private entrepreneurial sector. Genuine progress can be made when all these organizations and institutions share a common understanding of their problems and goals.


Better technologies are almost always required for communities to build a healthier environment. But "better" technologies need not require being "high-tech" or costly. Good technologies are those that allow a city to prevent environmental deterioration, rather than to contend with its consequences. Better technologies also fit the indigenous level of management capability and can be maintained by local technicians. Rising standards of living and increasing levels of industrialization lead to greater per capita energy use, most of it urban-based, so initiatives to improve the efficiency of power plants, vehicular fleets, industries, and local governments are an effective way to help reduce growing urban environmental degradation.

Nations working with USAID have been able to "avoid" more than 6.1 million tons of carbon dioxide from 1985 to 2000, while improving the reliability and efficiency of their power and industrial sectors. The importance of this achievement is hard to overstate.

Financing Options

One of the toughest challenges is paying for the basic urban environmental infrastructure that is lacking in most developing countries -- satisfactory water, wastewater, and solid waste management systems. Current approaches to the financing of basic urban environmental infrastructure are self-limiting, unpredictable, and not under the control of local governments. In the absence of well-developed domestic capital markets in much of the world, resources to pay for basic urban environmental infrastructure come primarily from national budgets or credits from donors and the development banks -- the World Bank and the several regional development banks. Over the long term, these sources will be insufficient.

Parks and Greeneries

Parks and open spaces play a significant role in increasing the health of communities, increasing educational scores, and boosting property values. One solution is to reconnect urban residents to their environment by increasing our investment in the environments closest to them -- parks and open spaces. Parks improve air quality, create habitat for wildlife, reduce storm water runoff, and cool the temperatures of heat islands in the cities. But, more importantly, parks provide places for children and their parents to play and the most important thing is that these parks act as lung spaces for the sprawling cities.

Increasing Cooperation and Partnerships

Sustaining economic prosperity and protecting the environment require partnerships and cooperation, not only between federal, state and local governments, but also with the private sector. We must promote cooperation among neighboring communities, add flexibility and incentives to our programs, and seek out innovative ways to do business. We must reach out to communities, businesses, organizations, and to local and state governments.

Besides, these few steps, can be useful for better management of urban environment, are:

  • Control of the operation of the system should be exercised regularly to safeguard satisfactory results. Treated water to be reused for irrigation purpose and to developing the greenery.

  • Nationwide Awareness Campaign to increase public awareness involving local bodies like citizen’s forum, school children and educational institutions.

  • The use of speedboats and other engine operated means for water recreation in lakes and in rivers should be controlled so that noise or water pollution from oil spills is avoided. Large boats and other vessels in deep waters should also be controlled so that danger of pollution through their effluent or oil spills is again eliminated.

  • Rivers and seas should also be protected from similar dangers of pollution. Dumping of waste into the river and sea should be prohibited.

  • Industrial activities should be under constantly monitored and checked for the discharges and emissions.

  • Hotels, hospitals and industrial units must have an adequate garbage storage and treatment facility.

  • Immediate and Long Term Measures for Improvement of solid waste management are:

    • Reduction of waste at source by separation into dry & wet

    • Recycling of waste

    • Introduction finding health-hazards associated with organized and unorganized worriers in waste management

    • Introduction of night services

    • Study of enteric pathogens in wastes generated by faulty sanitations especially in urban slum areas

    • Knowing the effect of synthetic endocrine disruptors found in industrial effluents on living system

    • Formulation of databases for further planning regarding hazardous biomedical wastes Developing microbial technology for effective degradation of otherwise non-degradable wastes

    • Development of Biomarkers for early degradation

    • Privatization of solid waste transportation

    • Involvement of NGOs/CBOs/private and public sector organizations/ industrial houses

    • Processing of waste to recover at the source

    • Development of new disposal sites

  • Strengthening inter-sectoral development between State and the Center. There should be good cooperation between State Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board, Municipal Administration, Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation, and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare etc.

  • Finding alternative ways to generate power so that utilization of non-renewable energy sources becomes less.

  • To encourage a change in the commuting public perspective from using private vehicles to mass public transport. However, this can only be achieved by both increasing and enhancing existing public transport facilities.

  • Improving the fuel quality and use of alternative fuels like compressed natural gas is an important factor in curbing vehicular pollution.

  • Community Participation in Planning Process.

  • In order to save the heritage and archeological sites and structures there should be Urban Arts Commissions and Heritage Committees who widen their emphasis from the present obsession with ‘architectural conservation’ to issues of ‘urban conservation’.


The major challenge is that how we can look forward to solve urban environmental problems and for better urban environmental management. Our focus should be on:

  • Identifying the interrelationships between environment and poverty, and addressing both to meet the needs of urban residents.

  • Developing, assembling and applying environmental assessment and planning tools to better understand the complex problems at hand and help to create more holistic approaches to problem-solving.

  • Promoting individuals, local governments, private sector, and local government partnerships as these provides the foundation for strengthening local governance, resource mobilization, and networking.

  • Role of National and local governments, research institutions and the academicians, NGOs, the private sector, and international agencies. 

Urbanisation, Slums and Population, Air, Water and Noise Pollution, Solid Waste,  Cooperation and Partnerships for Urban Planning
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