Designing sustainable solutions



Designing sustainable solutions



RACHEL CHATTERJEE





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 solution.

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 efforts.

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 Corporation, India.

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 +1 410 516 6963.


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