URBAN PROBLEMS REMAIN SIMILAR WORLDWIDE

 

Unemployment and Insufficient Solid Waste Disposal are Main Concerns

NEW YORK, 28 JULY -- The United Nations Development Programme announced today that unemployment remains the world's number one urban problem, according to a survey of mayors of cities from around the world. A similar 1994 survey also revealed unemployment as the world's foremost urban problem.

The second most serious problem faced by city dwellers is insufficient solid waste disposal, the survey of 151 mayors revealed. This issue replaced inadequate housing as the number two problem in 1994, now ranked as number four.

Surprisingly, one of the two least pressing problems of 14 listed in the survey is "urban violence/crime/personal safety," which ranked the fourth most severe problem among 12 listed in the 1994 survey.

According to James Gustave Speth, UNDP Administrator, "For the first time in world history, more than half of the world's population now live in cities and towns rather than in rural areas.

Urban problems and their solutions, therefore, now top the world's agenda."

The UNDP survey of 14 categories of problems and the percentages of mayors identifying them as "severe" (they were permitted more than one choice), are as follows:

 

	Ranking Problem 		Percent

 

1 Unemployment----------------------------------52.0

2 Insufficient solid waste disposal---------------42.0

3 Urban poverty-----------------------------------41.6

4 Inadequate housing stock----------------------33.8

5 Insufficient solid waste collection-------------30.9

6 Inadequate water/sanitation facilities---------28.4

7 Inadequate public transportation--------------26.2

8Traffic congestion--------------------------------22.3

9 Poor health services-----------------------------21.5

10 Insufficient civil society participation--------20.9

11 Inadequate education services----------------18.9

12 Air pollution-------------------------------------17.4

13 Urban violence/crime/personal safety--------13.5

14 Discrimination (women. ethnic, poor)--------6.8		

 

Significantly, 70 percent of the responding mayors who rank unemployment a severe problem also rank urban poverty as severe.

 

"All problems stem from poverty," writes Pie Ntiyankundiye, mayor of Bujumbura of Burundi. "Thus, development programmes should be financed to lessen unemployment and hence to urge people to work a bit harder." And he added: "The education sector should be highlighted to make people understand problems related to modernisation and everything related to illiteracy."

 

Among other significant results are that 44 percent of mayors who list insufficient solid waste disposal, and 56 percent who list insufficient solid waste collection as severe problems, also list inadequate water/sanitation facilities as severe.

 

Mayor Christopher R. M. Iga of Kampala City, Uganda, cites urban problems stemming from rural-to-urban migration. The best way to work with the large number of newcomers, according to Mayor Iga, is to have them "share the burden of leadership by taking part in providing...services. For example, we privatize the ownership of markets, taxi parks, and public toilets, and the results are encouraging."

 

Similarly, Mayor Carlos Loyola of Huamachuco, Peru, also cites rural-to-urban migration as causing inadequate water facilities to be the city's most serious problem. "We also face extreme urban poverty," he added, and thus "inadequate housing, sanitation, electricity, education and health services."

 

To obtain a cross-section of cities, the UNDP survey was distributed by the regional offices of the International Union of Local Authorities and by national associations of cities.

 

The conclusions given by the mayors will be discussed at the International Colloquium of Mayors on Governance for Sustainable Growth and Equity, which will be held July 28-30 at the United Nations in New York. Over 100 mayors have accepted invitations to attend the colloquium, which is co-sponsored by UNDP and the United Nations Centre on Human Settlements, UNCHS.

 

The purposes of the survey are: to identify issues and severity of urban problems, to identify areas where cities are experiencing some successes, and to establish a baseline for future more systematized surveys to help the United Nations better understand trends, needs and opportunities.

 North America

 Although, worldwide, urban violence/crime/personal safety is not ranked high among the survey's 14 categories of problems, crime is ranked severe by mayors of St. Louis (396,685) and Fort Wayne (173,072) in the United States. For example, Mayor Paul Helmke of Fort Wayne, Indiana, explains: "Our biggest challenge in Fort Wayne is fighting the crime that has been caused as a result of illegal drug trafficking. Our efforts to strengthen the police department and involve neighborhoods and citizens in addressing their local problems have helped make a real difference in safety levels and decision-making processes."

Mayor William Murphy of the United States city of Woodridge, Illinois (population 26,256), rates no problems as severe and claims success in addressing jobs, tax base growth, and road improvement. "Partnerships," he wrote, "have helped to improve the economic future of our community and the quality of life of each resident."

On the other hand, the Chairman of Canada's Metropolitan Toronto (population 635,395) considers unemployment and air pollution as his city's severe problems. According to Chairman Alan Tonks: "Urban success in the new millennium will hinge on providing cities with the legislative and fiscal capacity to deal with the challenges they are facing. Cities need to forge new partnerships with senior governments to address population growth and employment, the provision of hard infrastructure and social services, and appropriate governance structures."

The diversity of major problems identified among North American cities is further illustrated by the mayors of Mexico's cities of Oaxaca de Juarez (population 116,826) and Merida, Yucatan (population 233,912). Oaxaca's mayor rates traffic congestion and inadequate housing as his city's most severe problems, attributable to rural-to-urban migration, whereas Merida's mayor considers insufficient solid waste disposal as that city's most severe problem.

Latin America

Illustrative of the prominence of unemployment as a severe problem in Latin America is the response of the mayor of Leon, Nicaragua (population 90,897) among others. According to Leon's mayor, "Currently the municipality is facing a truly economic crisis where more than 23% of the population is experiencing extreme poverty and more than 70% of the economically active population is unemployed -- implying a clear tendency for the deterioration of health and education as well as an increase in illiteracy."

Similarly, unemployment is reported to be the most severe problem of Argentina's cities of San Fernando and Florencio Varela as well as Ecuador's cities of Puyo and Manta.

Besides unemployment, the most serious problems reported for Cordoba, Argentina (population 586,015) are traffic congestion and air pollution.

Europe

A few European mayors consider unemployment a severe problem, such as the mayors of Turin (population 1,002,863) and Naples (1,204,149) of Italy, Nijmegen (147,150) and Utrecht (231,600) of the Netherlands, Skopje (308,117) of Macedonia, Malmo (232,408) of Sweden, and Cologne (976,694) of Germany.

Traffic congestion is cited as a serious problem in Bologna (417,410) Italy, several cities of Malta, Poland's cities of Cracow (748,356), Katowice (367,041) and Warsaw (1,655,063), and Prague (1,214,772) of the Czech Republic.

Few European cities mark urban poverty as a problem. However, Europe's cities appear to be experiencing problems related to modernization and technology. Illustrative are comments of Turin's and Cologne's mayors.

Turin's Mayor Valentino Castellani writes: "We are transforming a typical fordist town into a modern, European town. That is a slow and difficult long-term process that needs time and the participation of the whole city system. The risk of such urban transformation is to forget large parts of the population. We do not want that -- we are working to bring together development and solidarity."

Relating technological to environmental concerns, Cologne's Mayor Norbert Burger writes: "The success in establishing modern technology enterprises (e.g. media, bio- and genetic technology, environmental technologies) shows that there is a possibility for economic progress without interfering with environmental interests, for reconciling economy and ecology."

Africa

Many African mayors note the interrelatedness of unemployment and poverty, rural-to-urban migration, and the consequent negative impact on services.

"The most serious problems in our city are interrelated," according to the town clerk of Lilongwe of Malawi. "Urban unemployment causes poverty, and because of such poverty, people are not capable of paying for services such as health and education."

Similarly, Mayor Joel Kafuko of Jinja (228,520), Uganda cites "the collapse of industries" as causing "urban poverty arising from unemployment." Also, the mayor of Chitungwiza (172,600), Zimbabwe laments the "low levels of industrial development leading to unemployment and poverty."

Mayor Dick W. Mbugua of Nairobi (827,775), Kenya comments: "Due to population influx into the city, adequate provision of services -- such as housing, schools, medical, water, sewerage, roads, etc. -- is a nightmare."

Some African mayors link unemployment to problems related to idle youth.

Thus, Mayor Alfred Sanou of Bobo-Dioulasso (290,000), Burkina Faso, writes: "Bobo-Dioulasso was a cleaner town in the past. Young men of Bobo-Dioulasso spend most of their time drinking tea. They don't want to work."

Mayor Alii Momodou N'Jie of Banjuk (44,148), Gambia, adds: "Problems of drug use and rural-urban migration among our youth have increased considerably as a result of the persistent drought and unemployment, consequently causing enormous strain on the already stretched resources of the city."

The city of Dakar (798,792), Senegal, is undertaking a program to employ youth to improve the city. Thus, Mayor Mamadou Diop claims: "In the face of the distressing sight which is sometimes found in the city, Operation "Set-Setal en Wolof" (one of the national languages of Senegal, which he translates: 'Be clean and make clean') has enabled the municipality to put to work all the young people, grouped in association under the umbrella organisation CAMCUD (Coordination of Associations of the Masses of the Urban Community of Dakar), to clean up the city of Dakar. Other than the creation of employment, this experience has the benefit of: developing a sense of citizenship, enabling participation in the management of the city, and fighting against exclusion and poverty."

Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East

The mayors of both Damascus (1,251,028), Syria and Nicosia (168,800), Cyprus rank inadequate public transportation as their most serious problem. Damascus Mayor M. Zouheir Taghlibi also cites "all kinds of pollution" as a major problem. Nicosia's mayor, Lellos Demetriades adds that "Nicosia remains the only divided city in the world."

Erdem Saker, the mayor of Turkey's fifth largest city, Bursa (466,178), comments that its most serious problems (housing, infrastructure, employment, etc.) derive from immigration from eastern Anatolia, Bulgaria, former Yugoslavia, and Albania.

The mayors of both Rafah and Gaza (118,300) in Palestine claim that the lack of infrastructure is their most serious problem, especially inadequate water/sanitation facilities and sewage systems. Gaza's mayor also emphasizes inadequate housing, whereas Rafah's mayor emphasizes not enough paved roads, as other serious problems.

Asia and Pacific

Although the city of Wuhan (4,250,000), China has given high priority to solid waste collection and disposal, according to Mayor Wang Shouhai, these remain that city's most severe problems.

Insufficient solid waste disposal is also among the most serious problems of the cities of Baroda (744,043) and Guntur (367,219) in India, Nagoya (2,154,664) of Japan, Kathmandu (235,211) of Nepal, and Suva (69,665) of Fiji.

Suva's Mayor Meli Vakarewakobau explains: "The Fiji land tenure system has made it very difficult for our finding an alternative site for our solid waste disposal."

Mayor Kiyoshi Takahashi of Kawasaki (1,173,606), Japan cites an "aging society and declining birth rate" as that city's most serious problem. "The sudden arrival of the aging society is a serious problem facing the whole of Japan," he comments. "It is predicted that Kawasaki's population over 65 years will double by the year 2010." Accordingly, "we must concentrate on building facilities providing care for the elderly, and find sources of workers." Likewise, Nagoya's Mayor Takehisa Matsubara lists as his city's number one problem as "Preparation of a care system for a rapidly aging society."

Mayor Moon Jung-Soo of Pusan (3,514,798), Korea claims that traffic congestion and clean water are his city's most serious problems. The mayors of both Kathmandu and Tansing, Nepal, also cite water supply as their most serious problems.

Kathmandu's Mayor Keshav Sthadit explains: "The demand for drinking water has been increasing due to the increased population and rapid urban growth. At present, the total water supply per day from ground and surface systems in the valley is limited to 60 million litres per day whereas the demand is 114 million litres per day." He adds: "In order to meet this demand, the central government has proposed to implement the 'Melamchi Water Supply Project.' The construction of this project may take at least seven years from now to complete, involving a huge amount of capital."

In addition to listing and rating urban problems, Mayors were asked to list areas in which they are experiencing success in dealing with problems. These successes will be shared with Mayors at the Colloquium in an effort to help city leaders share positive experiences and learn from one another.

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The report below was organized by UNDP on the occasion of the International Colloquium of Mayors, held at the UN headquarters from 28-31 July 1997, as part of the International Conference on Governance for Sustainable Growth and Equity. UNDP wishes to acknowledge the support of the IULA Office for Research and Training, particularly Prof. Arno Loessner. For more information, please contact Mr. Jonas Rabinovitch, Coordinator, International Colloquium of Mayors and manager UNDP's Urban Development Team at  jonas.rabinovitch@undp.org, tel (212) 906 5780, fax (212) 906 6973.