SDG 11 : Cities for all

  • We should harness the transformational power of urbanisation for sustainable development

Jul 11, 2017-

Cities are hubs of ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more. At their best, cities have enabled people to advance socially and economically.

But there are still many challenges when it comes to maintaining cities in a way that continues to create jobs and usher in prosperity while not straining the land and resources. Common urban challenges include congestion, lack of funds to provide basic services, a shortage of adequate housing and declining state of infrastructure.

The challenges cities face can be overcome in ways that allow them to continue to thrive, while improving resource use and reducing pollution and poverty. The future we want includes cities with opportunities for all, where citizens have access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are designed to complete the development goals identified by the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and even go beyond them. I think every aspect of development has been linked with the SDGs. SDG 11 puts special focus on adequate shelter, sustainable transportation, and overall urban development issues.  

Holistic development 

In the context of Nepal, all cities and towns, including Kathmandu, are unorganised. People are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of employment opportunities and better livelihood. As a result, the urban population is ever increasing and the number of informal settlements has inflated. We have 265 municipalities in Nepal, but most of them are municipalities in name only as their characteristics are more rural. There is a lack of adequate infrastructure. Some do not welcome the denomination of municipalities, as they often have to pay more municipal taxes and comply with formalities like building permits without enjoying the facilities usually expected from municipalities. 

It is anticipated that cities and towns will grow after they are declared municipalities. But there is no holistic plan of urban development, and the implementation of existing plans is very weak. First, we need a vision and mission on how to develop our municipality. Second, every municipality must have its own plan and robust implementation of agendas like infrastructure development, human resources, heritage protection, livelihood, services and facilities, development of safe and planned settlements, drinking water, sanitation facilities, etc.  

At the policy level too, municipalities must have the right to make their own decisions. For example, currently a municipality cannot take its own decision on how to better utilise the local public land. Therefore, there is a lack of good planning and vision. This hampers better implementation of policies. Another example: we have a good policy on pollution control, but we lack practical action towards it. 

Similarly, we have limited interaction with community organisations. There is a lack of human resources at the local level. Local authorities have very limited awareness of SDGs and related international agendas. The Nepali government has signed an international charter—the SDGs. However, many government officials and other stakeholders have limited information and knowledge of this charter. Many do not care. 

Challenges galore

People are the focus of urbanisation. We should work according to the needs of the people. Cities are for all. They are inhabited by different people who are rich, poor, young, old, socially disadvantaged, etc. Therefore, we need to make everyone feel that the cities belong to them. But if street vendors are chased or informal settlements are destroyed without providing alternatives to the people, we need to think about the impact this has on people’s perception of the city. We need to identify and address all requirements to improve the situation.   

Different people like youths, women and the marginalised have varied needs. It may not be possible to fulfil all their demands, but it is possible to address priority issues through consultation with stakeholders. For example, it is very important to ensure safe and women-friendly public transportation systems. We must also have plans to curb gender-based violence in public and work places.  

Development programmes should be targeted to benefit all. It is also important to focus on inclusive and proportional distribution systems, equal opportunities and easy access in the development process. Otherwise it is not sustainable. 

For example, can a disabled person easily visit public offices, or even the prime minister’s office at Singha Durbar? We must think about practical aspects like these. Therefore, I would suggest plans and implementation of these plans to support easy access for all. If we want to truly endorse the slogan “City for all”, the distribution of facilities must be proportional and inclusive. Likewise, urban transportation and other infrastructure must be gender-, disabled- and child-friendly. 

There are several environmental challenges in Nepal’s urban areas. To address these challenges, excellent public transportation facilities are necessary. Due to the lack of a good public transportation system, private transportation like motorbikes and cars are ever increasing, thus polluting the urban environment. We need to encourage green transportation like bicycles and electric vehicles in our cities.  It is essential to manage solid and other waste of urban areas appropriately. For example, we could promote biogas to generate power. Also during road construction and expansion, a system should be in place to control dust. Old structures are destroyed and we wait for years for their reconstruction. Therefore, we need to have a system where all old structures, while being destroyed, are reconstructed simultaneously.

In Kathmandu, roads are destroyed in the name of expansion. Their reconstruction is slow, causing air pollution due to dirt. The major environmental problems of the urban sector are dust and smoke. With proper plans, and commitment and coordination among various stakeholders, the environmental challenges can be addressed. 

The constitution has ensured the rights to shelter, drinking water, sanitation and a clean environment to all. It lists these under fundamental rights, but to ensure and implement these privileges, concerned organisations should come forward to raise awareness. If people cannot enjoy their rights, whether they are enshrined in the constitution or not holds no meaning. Therefore, necessary policy and legislation should be formulated and implemented effectively. 


Manandhar is the Executive Director of Lumanti Support Group for Shelter; this article is part of the weekly series on SDGs

Published: 11-07-2017 08:13

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