|Water for Urban Areas (UNU, 2000, 243 p.)|
The focus of the Sixth Global Environmental Forum, which was convened by the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo, Japan, on 25 June 1997, was on "Water for Urban Areas in the 21st Century." The sixth Forum, like the preceding five, was organized with the support of a leading Japanese construction company, Obayashi Corporation.
The topic for the Forum was selected because water and waste-water management for the urban areas of the developing world are likely to become increasingly important and complex tasks during the first half of the twenty-first century. When the issues of increasing water scarcities and accelerating water pollution in and around the urban centres of the developing world are superimposed on the continuing trend of rapid urbanization, the magnitude and the extent of the problems associated with the issue of water and wastewater management for the urban areas during the twenty-first century are likely to increase significantly compared with what they are at present.
The problems facing the urban areas of the developing world can be realized from the following selected facts:
· In 1950, 30 per cent of the global population lived in the urban areas. By 1995, this figure had increased to 45 per cent, a 50 per cent increase. In certain countries such as Nigeria, the urban population increased by more than four times during this period.
· By 1995, 70 per cent of the population of Europe, North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean were living in urban areas.
· Currently some 30-35 per cent of people in Africa and Asia live in urban areas. These two continents are now witnessing high urban growth rates estimated at roughly 4 per cent per year.
· Between 1950 and 1990, the number of cities with a population of over 1 million increased almost four-fold, from 78 to 290. By 2025, this number is estimated to increase to more than 600.
· By 2015, the population of mega-cities such as Bombay, Jakarta, Karachi, and Lagos is expected to increase by more than 90 per cent. In contrast, Tokyo is anticipated to grow by only 10 per cent during the same period.
Water supply and wastewater management
· In 1994, approximately 280 million people in urban areas did not have access to a water supply. Among the urban poor, less than 30 per cent of households were connected to water distribution systems.
· Very few urban centres can provide water that can be drunk safely. Not surprisingly, the consumption of bottled water among the affluent sections of society is increasing exponentially. In India, for example, between only 1992 and 1997, the annual consumption of bottled water increased 4.5 times.
· In 1990, 453 million people (that is, 33 per cent of the urban population) had no access to sanitation. By 1994, this number had increased to 589 million people, or 37 per cent of the urban population. Present trends indicate further increases in coming years.
· Irrespective of official statements, only about 2-6 per cent of sewage collected in major urban centres of Latin America is properly treated at present.
· The costs per cubic metre of water for new water supply projects in real terms are now 1.5 to 3 times the cost of the previous generation of projects. Thus, the investment requirements for new water projects would be significantly higher than are estimated at present.
· Unsafe drinking water is responsible for 80 per cent of diseases and 30 per cent of deaths in developing countries.
· Altogether 1.2 billion people suffer annually from diseases caused by unsafe drinking water and/or poor sanitation.
· More than 4 million children die each year from waterborne diseases.
· In the developing world, 15 per cent of children will die before reaching the age of 5 as a result of diarrhoea, which is caused by poor water supply and sanitation.
The above facts, as well as numerous other associated issues, clearly indicate that the developing world faces a mammoth problem in coming decades, in terms of water supply and wastewater management in urban areas, whose magnitude and complexity no other generation in human history has had to face. In addition, and irrespective of global rhetoric, the overall global situation in terms of good-quality drinking water and proper wastewater treatment during the 1990s has been progressively deteriorating, in terms of both absolute numbers as well as the percentage of the urban population affected.
Because of this critical situation and current unsatisfactory global trends, the United Nations University decided that the Sixth Global Environmental Forum would focus on water for urban areas in the twenty-first century. Eight of the world's leading experts from different disciplines, institutions, and countries were specifically selected for the Forum, and were then invited to prepare background papers within an overall integrated framework, and also to lead the discussions during the Forum. We are indeed very pleased that all our first-choice speakers promptly agreed to participate in this important meeting. The Forum was specifically designed to be a very focused event, and the various complex and interrelated problems were addressed from multidisciplinary and multisectoral viewpoints as well as regional perspectives.
The Forum was convened at the headquarters of the United Nations University, and some 350 participants from different institutions all over Japan and from international institutions active in Japan attended the event. Following the presentations of the invited world experts, there was a Panel Discussion with extensive audience participation.
We are most grateful to the authors of the background papers for accepting our invitation, as well as to Obayashi Corporation for their generous financial sponsorship that made the Forum possible.
Juha I. Uitto
Asit K. Biswas