Cities have been a hub of opportunities for people hence people keep coming to cities in search of better standard of living, prosperity and greater access to better health and education facilities. Now, cities themselves are getting sick. The governments need to find out solutions to cure the problems cities are grappling with.
A range of urban sectors determine the quality of life people live in cities. These sectors include urban transport systems, use of fuel by vehicles, housing patterns, energy consumption patterns, waste management systems, etc. Many of these sectors are well within control of governments which they can regulate for ensuring better living condition in cities.
Policymakers and politicians need to take certain actions to mitigate urban health risks and these can have important co-benefits for multiple policy objectives. If we talk about well-planned cities, they offer opportunities to create urban patterns that minimize health risks from air pollution, traffic injury, and physical inactivity, while also mitigating climate change.
For example, an energy-efficient urban transport system can help cities meet multiple health and sustainability goals. Strategic investments in public transport networks can reduce air pollution in cities in the long term and control emissions generated by private transport. It has been seen that cities with effective urban transport system have better air quality. Local authorities can also focus on developing walking and cycling infrastructures which are comparatively inexpensive solutions and can be implemented with local interventions and community assistance.
For instance, according to a report of World Health Organization, in Nairobi, it is estimated that some 40% of daily trips are on foot and another 40% of travel is via informal and poorly organized “matatus,” or shared taxi systems – while only about 9% of travel is by private vehicles. As in most of Africa, no formal air quality monitoring system exists in Nairobi. However, research studies have attributed much of the city’s air pollution to traffic, with reported PM2.5 air pollution levels several times over WHO guideline limits.
AN ENERGY-EFFICIENT URBAN TRANSPORT SYSTEM CAN HELP CITIES MEET MULTIPLE HEALTH AND SUSTAINABILITY GOALS. STRATEGIC INVESTMENTS IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT NETWORKS CAN REDUCE AIR POLLUTION IN CITIES IN THE LONG TERM AND CONTROL EMISSIONS GENERATED BY PRIVATE TRANSPORT. LOCAL AUTHORITIES CAN ALSO FOCUS ON DEVELOPING WALKING AND CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURES WHICH ARE COMPARATIVELY INEXPENSIVE SOLUTIONS AND CAN BE IMPLEMENTED WITH COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE
Improved urban environment
People in cities are increasingly using air-conditioning systems that impact the environment negatively. The problem is going to become more severe as more and more people opt for ACs in their homes and offices. The situation is getting worse because of urban heat land effects. For cooling the urban environment, cities need to go back to basics. The cities need to be planned thoughtfully keeping in mind open skyline design, green buildings, vertical gardens, urban forests, walking and bikeways, etc. These initiatives will help in mitigating urban heat island impacts and also reduce energy requirements for air conditioning, smog levels, and health risks due to heat stress and poor air quality. Slum up-gradation is also a useful tool to address health-related risks in cities. Slums are often associated with poor sanitation facilities, sub-standard use of fuel for cooking, and unhealthy living conditions. Cities are becoming denser by the day and the problems of the slums are not going to remain limited to those areas. If we want to make inclusive cities, the problem of low-income and unauthorized colonies must be addressed with sincerity. To achieve this, local participation can be a powerful instrument to mobilize low-income communities around the planning, management and governance issues of their neighbourhoods. Most of these problems are interconnected and need to be addressed with a holistic view.