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close this bookBasic Facts on Urbanization (HABITAT, 2001, 21 p.)
View the documentAbout
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentGeneral Demographic Trends
View the documentThe Growth of Large Cities
View the documentThe Economics of Cities
View the documentUrbanization and Feminization of Poverty
View the documentThe Challenge of Adequate Housing
View the documentHomelessness
View the documentUrban Violence
View the documentEnvironmental Deterioration
View the documentAccess to Services and Basic Infrastructure
View the documentChildren in the Urban World
View the documentSustainable Urban Development
View the documentGlobal Campaigns on Security of Tenure and Urban Governance
View the documentNotes
View the documentList of References

Access to Services and Basic Infrastructure

A large proportion of the world's population remains deprived of basic services such as water supply and sanitation. This marginalised population is particularly large in those developing countries where economic progress has been slow. Yet the situation is improving. While in 1990, 30 per cent of the urban population in developing countries lacked access to safe water and 25 per cent lacked access to adequate sanitation, (45) recent UNICEF data indicates that these figures have since been reduced to some 13 and 25 per cent respectively (see table 10). If the latter percentages are applied to the urban population in the year 2000, some 253 million urban dwellers in developing countries will lack access to safe water, while 486 million will lack access to adequate sanitation.

Table 10. Access to safe water and adequate sanitation, urban areas, by region (1990-1997)

Region(4)

Per cent of population with access to:


Safe water

Adequate sanitation

Latin America & Caribbean

87

81

Sub-Saharan Africa

75

66

North Africa & Middle East

84

95

Asia & Pacific

92

76


India

85

70


China

97

74


Rest of Asia & Pacific

92

83

Total developing countries

87

75

Source: Based on UNICEF, 1999 (see note 47).

Among those who had access to water in 1991, some two-thirds had water piped into their houses. The remaining third were supplied through public standpipes, yard taps, protected dug wells and boreholes/handpumps.(46) As tables 10 and 11 indicate, access to safe water is considerably less widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa than in the other regions.(47)

Table 11. Urban services provision, by region (1993)

Region(4)

Persons per hospital bed

Household connection level
(per cent of all households connected)

Regular waste collection
(per cent of households)



Water

Sewerage

Electricity


Industrial countries

67

99

96

99

97


High-income economies

132

99

98

99

99


Transitional economies

31

97

89

99

91

Developing countries

469

66

44

84

69


Latin America & Caribbean

288

77

62

92

85


Sub-Saharan Africa

954

38

13

42

36


North Africa & Middle East

410

77

59

90

65


Asia & Pacific

566

63

38

86

67

World total

146

82

70

92

83

Note: Based on data from selected cities (see note 11), for definitions see UNCHS (Habitat), 1995.

Source: Based on UNCHS (Habitat), 1998.

People living in poverty - and especially women, whose domestic responsibilities usually include providing water for the home - suffer the most from inadequate water supplies. Many are forced to purchase water from street vendors at exorbitant prices. Since water prices from street vendors are often considerably higher than the price of piped water, it is obvious that access to affordable water is a major issue for the urban poor.

As indicated in table 10, some 75 per cent of the urban population in developing countries currently have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Among those that had provision for sanitation in 1991, most (56.5 per cent) had a simple latrine; some 31.1 per cent lived in a house connected to a public sewer system, while about 12.4 per cent had a septic tank system.(48)

The urban population of Sub-Saharan Africa is considerably worse off than other regions in terms of provision of services (see table 11). In terms of health care, for example, there are some 954 persons per hospital bed in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 288 in Latin America and the Caribbean. In terms of regular waste collection and the supply of electricity, the situation is similar.

The rapid expansion of urban areas during the second half of the twentieth century is closely related to the availability and utilization of motor vehicles. In many cities, public transport has deteriorated to simple services for the poor or others who do not have access to private vehicles. Consequently, public transport is often overcrowded, technically outdated and sometimes even dangerous to use. At the same time, in many cities in industrial countries, public transport is not efficient in comparison with other modes of transport and is therefore less attractive to potential users.