Cities Key to Tackling Poverty, Climate Change
State of The World 2007

by WorldWatch Institute

Washington, D.C.-If global development priorities are not reassessed to account for massive urban poverty, well over half of the 1.1 billion people projected to join the world's population between now and 2030 may live in under-serviced slums, according to State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, released today by the Worldwatch Institute. Additionally, while cities cover only 0.4 percent of the Earth's surface, they generate the bulk of the world's carbon emissions, making cities key to alleviating the climate crisis, notes the report.

As recently as a century ago, the vast majority of the world's people lived in rural areas, but by sometime next year more than half of all people will live in urban areas. Over 60 million people-roughly the population of France-are now added to the planet's burgeoning cities and suburbs each year, mostly in low-income urban settlements in developing countries.

State of the World 2007 Home Page

Unplanned and chaotic urbanization is taking a huge toll on human health and the quality of the environment, contributing to social, ecological, and economic instability in many countries. Of the 3 billion urban dwellers today, 1 billion live in "slums," defined as areas where people cannot secure key necessities such as clean water, a nearby toilet, or durable housing. An estimated 1.6 million urban residents die each year due to lack of clean water and sanitation as a result.
"For a child living in a slum, disease and violence are daily threats, while education and health care are often a distant hope," said Molly O'Meara Sheehan, State of the World 2007 project director. "Policymakers need to address the 'urbanization of poverty' by stepping up investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure." From 1970 to 2000, urban aid worldwide was estimated at $60 billion-just 4 percent of the $1.5 trillion in total development assistance.

The Commission for Africa has identified urbanization as the second greatest challenge confronting the world's most rapidly urbanizing continent, after HIV/AIDS. Only about 35 percent of Africa's population is urban, but it is predicted that this figure will jump to 50 percent by 2030. "The promise of independence has given way to the harsh realities of urban living mainly because too many of us were ill-prepared for our urban future," notes Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of UN-HABITAT, in the report's foreword.
State of the World 2007 also describes how community groups and local governments have emerged as pioneers of groundbreaking policies to address both poverty and environmental concerns, in some cases surpassing the efforts of their national governments. "The task of saving the world's modern cities might seem hopeless-except that it is already happening," said Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute. "Necessities from food to energy are increasingly being produced by urban pioneers inside city limits."
Among the many examples of cities taking the lead in shaping a sustainable future cited in the report:

  • In Karachi, Pakistan, the Orangi Pilot Project has linked hundreds of thousands of low-income households in informal settlements with good-quality sewers. By taking charge of the pipes connecting their houses to lane sewers, local residents cut costs to a fifth of what they would have been charged by the official water and sanitation agency.
  • In Freetown, Sierra Leone, after the cessation of a multi-year civil war, a swelling population has successfully turned to urban farming to meet much of its food demand.
  • In Rizhao, China, a government program enabled 99 percent of households in the central districts to obtain solar water heaters, while most traffic signals and street and park lights are powered by solar cells, limiting the city's carbon emissions and urban pollution.
  • In Bogotá, Colombia, engineers improved upon the iconic bus rapid transit system of Curitiba, Brazil, to create the TransMilenio, which has helped decrease air pollution, increase quality of life, and inspire similar projects in Europe, North America, and Asia.

Cities around the world have also begun to take climate change seriously, many in response to the direct threat they face. Of the 33 cities projected to have at least 8 million residents by 2015, at least 21 are coastal cities that will have to contend with sea-level rise from climate change.

In the United States, over 300 cities-home to more than 51 million Americans-have joined the U.S. Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement, committing to reducing their emissions and lobbying the federal government for a national climate policy. Chicago, for example, has negotiated with a private utility to provide 20 percent of the city government's electricity from renewable sources by 2010, and aims to become "the most environmentally friendly city in America." Not to be outdone, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced plans for his city to become the nation's leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While no single set of "best practices" would enable all cities to successfully address the challenges of poverty and environmental degradation, State of the World 2007 focuses on areas where urban leadership can have huge benefits for the planet and human development. These include providing water and sanitation services to the urban poor, bolstering urban farming, and improving public transportation. Additionally, the report recommends devoting more resources to information gathering on urban issues so that city, national, and international entities can better assess development priorities.

"A city is a collective dream. To build this dream is vital," observes Jaime Lerner, the former governor of Paraná, Brazil, and the former mayor of Curitiba, in his foreword to the report. "It is in our cities that we can make the most progress toward a more peaceful and balanced planet, so we can look at an urban world with optimism instead of fear."

STATE OF THE WORLD 2007: Notable Trends

An Urbanizing World

  • In the last half-century, the world's urban population has increased nearly fourfold, from 732 million in 1950 to more than 3.2 billion in 2006. (p. 7)
  • Africa now has 350 million urban dwellers, more than the populations of Canada and the United States combined. Asia and Africa are expected to double their urban populations to roughly 3.4 billion by 2030. (p. 4)
  • The vast majority of net additions to the human population-88 percent of the growth from 2000 to 2030-will be urban dwellers in low- and middle-income countries. (p. 7)

Providing Clean Water and Sanitation

  • Roughly half the people in African and Asian cities lack healthy and convenient water and sanitation. (p. 26)
  • A million or more infants and children die each year from diseases related to inadequate water and sanitation, and hundreds of millions suffer illness, pain, and discomfort. (p. 27)
  • Local community organizations and nongovernmental groups in the slums of Mumbai and Pune in India have designed, built, and managed more than 500 public toilet blocks that are safer, cleaner, and cheaper than standard facilities. (pp. 36-37)

Farming the Cities

  • An estimated 800 million people are involved in urban farming worldwide. (p. 50)
  • Consumers in urban areas pay up to 30 percent more for food than people in rural areas. In some cases, poor urbanites spend 60-80 percent of their income on food. (pp. 51-52)
  • Studies show that people at farmers' markets have as many as 10 times more conversations, greetings, and other social interactions than people in supermarkets. (p. 53)
  • Worldwide, 3.5-4.5 million hectares of land are irrigated with wastewater, which is used on more than half of the urban vegetable supply in several Asian and African cities. (p. 54)

Greening Urban Transportation

  • On average, urban car travel uses nearly twice as much energy as urban bus travel, 3.7 times more than light rail or tram system travel, and 6.6 times more than electric train travel. (p. 72)
  • U.S. public transport use in the first quarter of 2006 was more than 4 percent higher than a year earlier. (p. 79)
  • Between 2000 and 2005, voters in 33 U.S. states approved 70 percent of transport ballot measures, generating more than $70 billion, much of it for public transportation. (p. 84)
  • Air pollution dropped by 39 percent in Delhi after all buses were required to use compressed natural gas (CNG) as a result of a suit brought against the Indian government. By 2006, some 80,000 CNG vehicles were registered in Delhi, including all public buses and mini-taxis. (p. 74)

Energizing Cities

  • Nearly one-fifth of the estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide who lack access to electricity and other modern energy services live in the world's cities. (p. 93)
  • Globally, buildings account for more than 40 percent of total energy use. (p. 93)
  • China now leads the world in the manufacture and use of solar thermal systems, and Shanghai is a hotbed for solar energy. (p. 97) About 250,000 Chinese work in the solar industry. (p. 100)
  • Some 650 local governments worldwide participate in the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability. (p. 103)

Reducing Natural Disaster Risk in Cities

  • The number of people affected by natural disasters jumped from 177 million a year on average in the late 1980s to 270 million annually since 2001-a more than 50 percent increase. (p. 113)
  • Eight of the world's 10 most populous cities sit on or near earthquake faults, and 6 of the 10 are vulnerable to storm surges. (p. 115)
  • Economic losses worldwide from natural disasters in the 1990s could have been reduced by $280 billion if an estimated $40 billion had been invested in preventative measures. (p. 122)
  • Only 1-3 percent of households in low- and middle-income countries carry insurance against natural disasters, compared with 30 percent in high-income countries. (p. 125)

Charting a New Course for Urban Public Health

  • In poorer countries, urban areas often have the worst of all worlds, as the infectious diseases of deep poverty and the so-called "diseases of modernity" present a double burden. (p. 136)
  • Urban air pollution kills an estimated 800,000 people each year, roughly half of them in China (p. 138)
  • Each year, traffic accidents kill about 1.2 million people and injure up to 50 million more. (p. 139)
  • From Peru to India, localities have improved human and environmental health by paying attention to the views of their poorest citizens. (pp. 142-43)

Strengthening Local Economies

  • The Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy has more than 15,000 cooperatives, which contribute over one-third of the region's GDP. (p. 157)
  • By the end of 2004, 3,164 microcredit institutions had reached more than 92 million clients, nearly 84 percent of them women.
  • Worldwide, there are more than 157 million credit union members in 92 countries. (pp. 159-61)
  • Sales of fair trade products jumped 56 percent from 1997 to 2004, to 125,596 tons. (p. 163)

Fighting Poverty and Environmental Injustice in Cities

  • For decades, governments have struggled to limit urbanization and halt the growth of cities. In a 2005 study of 164 countries, 70 percent aimed to slow migration from rural to urban areas. (p. 176)
  • Over the last two decades, federations of urban poor have emerged from the grassroots. Shack/Slum Dwellers International, an umbrella group of such federations, now encompasses more than a dozen countries in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. (pp. 178-79)
  • Participatory budgeting, first developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1988 to engage the urban poor in setting community-level budgets, had spread to some 200-250 municipalities in Brazil by 2006 and been adapted in cities worldwide.
  • Between 2000 and 2006, the total number of cities with participatory budgets grew from 200 to roughly 1,200. (pp. 180-81)