|The Mega-city in Latin America (UNU, 1996, 282 pages)|
|11. Santa Fé de Bogotá: A Latin American special case?|
In addition to the long-standing challenges facing the city in terms of employment, housing, health, education, public transport, and economic growth, there are four current issues which are exciting considerable discussion in Bogotá: the high rate of crime, the deteriorating urban environment, traffic congestion, and the quality of the city's government.
Colombia has a reputation as a violent country and the country's major cities have long suffered from high crime rates. In 1993, there were 58 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants in Bogotá, placing it among the world's most violent cities.13 The rate is also increasing: in 1971 there were "only" 23 murders per 100,000 people.
It is uncertain whether the murder rate is increasing faster than crime generally, and there has long been a justified concern about the high incidence of burglary. Private security firms are benefiting greatly from the booming demand for their services: currently the city has three times more people working for private security firms than for the police (Londoño de la Cuesta, 1992: 22). Fear of crime has also affected lifestyles; many upper-middle-class families have forsaken their detached houses for the relative security of highrise flats and few housing estates are built without elaborate security devices.
The city dumps most of its waste directly into the River Bogotá and the amount of sewage has now overwhelmed the river. It is estimated that the inflow of sewage is roughly equal to the amount of water carried by the river at Cota (Coyuntura Social, 1990: 50). Human waste, industrial effluent, motor oil, and fertilizer all go straight into the river.
The level of pollution affects the health of communities living close to the river and its tributaries. Sanitary conditions close to the Tunjuelito river in the south of the city are particularly bad. Since the polluted water is also used for irrigation, all of Bogotá's people are at risk when they consume milk and vegetables produced near to the city.
Air pollution is also getting worse. Pollution levels are particularly high along the major bus routes, in the industrial zone and in the poor south (Coyuntura Social, 1990). In 1990, suspended air particles reached 567 microgrammes per cubic metre in the south, sulphur dioxide levels peaked at 95 particles per billion, and nitrogen oxide at 278 particles per billion. The air quality is certainly not helped by temperature inversions and by the amount of traffic.
Noise pollution is also reaching dangerous levels. Along the main roads in the central area, noise levels regularly exceed the 80 decibel maximum recommended by the health authorities (Londoño de la Cuesta, 1992: 28).
Congestion is becoming a really serious issue in the city. Along the two major bus routes into the centre, Avenida Caracas and Carrera Décima, average speeds are often as low as 15 kilometres per hour (Coyuntura Social, 1991: 40). The major cause of congestion is the huge expansion in private car ownership. Between 1977 and 1985, the number of road vehicles registered in Bogotá and ten nearby municipalities increased annually by 8 per cent (Acevedo, 1990: 92). In 1993, 460,000 vehicles were registered in Bogotá. But, if vehicles registered in the neighbouring muncipalities are included, the number of vehicles regularly using Bogotá's streets rose from 232,000 in 1977 to 825,000 in 1993.
For many, the only answer to the traffic problem is to build a metro. For years Bogotános have been demanding such a "solution" and, in 1989, Congress established the ground rules for metro construction (Acevedo, 1990: 106). The key issues are now its cost, the kind of system to use, and who will pay for it. It seems unlikely that
Bogotá will ever build an underground system because that would be far too expensive. The most probable answer is a mass-transit system that will use the existing rail tracks. This leaves the problem of who will pay for it. Congress has decreed that the national government should contribute no more than one-fifth of the investment cost, Bogotá covering the rest as well as the full cost of running the system. The mayor of Bogotá is currently involved in a public debate with the National Planning Department about the level of the city's contribution. Clearly, nothing will happen for many years; until then, journey times will continue to lengthen.
The quality of government
Bogotanos have long thought that their city was badly governed. By the end of the 1980s, when the local authority owed some US$2 billion dollars, they knew it was poorly managed.
The state of the public service agencies certainly leaves a great deal to be desired. First, their total debt currently makes up 90 per cent of that of the city (Castro, 1994: 38). Second, they are failing to keep up with the demand for their services: water, electricity, and sewerage coverage all declined during the 1990s. Third, they are being managed very badly: they have too many workers, there is too much corruption, and there is excessive political interference in the companies' day-to-day activities (Yepes, 1993; Díaz Arbeláez, 1988; Gilbert, 1990). Finally, most companies charge less than the cost of the service and, in the process of trying to help the poor, they often subsidize higher income groups.
The government of Bogotá's image is also not helped by the fact that one million people are living in poverty, traffic is almost at a standstill, and the public health system is in chaos. The public's view was echoed recently by the president of the local chamber of commerce:
It is an open secret that Bogotá has become the most difficult city in the country to manage. The lack of any community identity, the lack of any kind of systematic or integrated planning, the long-standing institutional limbo that has slowed its administrative development, and the increasingly suffocating financial constraints which prevent it from satisfying the needs of its inhabitants, have led everyone to think that Bogotá is an ungovernable city. (Férnandez de Soto, 1994)