Designing sustainable solutions
Hyderabad, India, where I serve as commissioner of the Municipal
Corporation, has had the distinction of being one of the fastest growing
cities in India during the past decade. The population has increased from
3.2 million in 1985 to 5.2 million in 1995. It is said that in 1591,
Muhammed Quli Qutab Shahi, the founder of Hyderabad, prayed that the city
would be filled with a population as numerous as the fish in the rivers.
His wish seems to have come true.
As managers of rapidly growing urban areas, our primary challenge, and the
ultimate challenge, is not to allow events to overtake us but to plan for
and manage growth in order to ensure a sustainable city of tomorrow. When
discussing sanitation, we should be looking not only at conveyances for
removing sewage but also at low-cost technologies for latrines. Or, when
focussed on questions related to a city's water supply, we should be
linking distribution systems with issues of conservation, recycling, and
the protection of water sources.
Designing sustainable solutions also requires us to look at the spatial
scale of each urban environmental problem. Deciding whether an
environmental problem is limited to specific households or affects the
entire city, or whether it is a regional, national, or even global
problem, allows one to define the necessary infrastructure and services
needed to address the problem. An understanding of scale also helps to
clarify which government departments should be involved in providing the
For example, the impacts of inadequate garbage collection are greater and
more immediate at the household and community level. Garbage, then, is one
area that can be addressed at the local level. In Hyderabad, people place
their garbage in communal bins located around the city; these bins are
then emptied by the municipality. However, the city began receiving
complaints that garbage was not being removed from the bins regularly.
Garbage was overflowing or being dumped illegally on the streets and in
drains. The bins were constantly being moved, further hindering collection
Hyderabad decided to involve the community in solving the problem. In one
pilot neighborhood, the city helped residents form an association that
would be in charge of the garbage bins. In addition to picking a permanent
location for the bins, the association appointed one person to go from
house to house to collect garbage and deposit it in the central bins. The
city paid this person 5 rupees (US$0.13) per household per month, and the
residents' association matched that amount. This amount is much smaller
than what it would cost for the Corporation to operate its own
door-to-door collection service. Since the success of the initial test
neighborhood, 170 neighborhoods have set up residents' associations to
manage garbage removal.
On the other hand, problems such as traffic congestion require more
complex, comprehensive actions. The impacts are many - time delays leading
to losses in productivity, wasted fuel, pollution, and accidents - and
transcend the boundaries of the city. Policy actions would have to be
undertaken at a higher level, modifying road networks and land use
patterns, increasing the diversity of transport options, and increasing
the costs of owning and driving a motor vehicle.
However we define our urban environmental problems, whether they are
simple or complex, common to the whole region or confined to one
neighborhood, the challenge is primarily a human one.
Rachel Chatterjee is commissioner of the Hyderabad Municipal
From World Resources 1996-97, published by Oxford University Press
for the World Resources Institute in cooperation with UNEP, the United
Nations Development Programme and the World Bank (price $24.95). The 400
page report is available from WRI Publications, P.O. Box 4852, Hampden
Station, Baltimore, MD 21211, United States. Tel: +1 800 822 0504 or +1
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