[A-List] The development of underdevelopment
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Mar 27 07:52:58 MST 2002
Cities of the South near environmental collapse
By Diana Cariboni
Asia Times, March 27, 2002
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Uncontrolled growth and lack of access to technology are driving the cities of the developing South to the verge of environmental collapse, warned participants at the fourth annual meeting of the Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS), held here.
At the conference of the AGS, comprising universities in Tokyo and in Chalmers, Sweden, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Federal Swiss Institute of Technology, experts presented their experiences and research over the weekend aimed at halting this negative trend in the developing world's urban areas.
In the northeastern Chinese province of Shandong, home to 87 million people, pollution from coal-burning electrical plants causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. The capital of the province, Jinan, with 5 million inhabitants, is one of the seven most contaminated cities in China, according to the World Bank.
Because of its enormous population - 1.2 billion people - and the widespread use of coal in generating electricity, China is the world's third leading emitter of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global warming. The burning of coal also releases other gases and particles that cause serious respiratory ailments, said Baldur Eliasson, head of the AGS China Energy Technology Program.
AGS launched the China program with cooperation from Chinese governmental agencies, universities and companies from the energy sector. Eliasson stated that energy demand in Shandong would triple by 2020, and a million people would die each year from ailments related to air pollution. "The purpose of the program is to measure the true impact of coal-fired electrical generation, taking into account the environmental and social costs, and to develop effective solutions," he said.
Cleaner technology would reduce the economic, environmental and social costs dramatically, Eliasson said. It is possible to reduce particle emissions and improve air quality, but there will not be a marked decline in carbon-dioxide emissions if coal continues to be the main source of energy, he said.
The air is not pure in Bogota, either. The inefficiency of the public transport system in the Colombian capital is one more problem affecting the quality of life of the population, in addition to the violence associated with the illegal drug trade, the civil war and crime in general.
The mayor's office launched the "Transmilenio" plan in late 2000, aimed at improving transportation services and air quality in Bogota, the third most polluted city in Latin America. In two years, Transmilenio has increased the average speed of city buses from 10 kilometers per hour to 25km/h, slashed the number of fatal traffic accidents and saved US$10 million a year in costs related to air pollution by reducing the incidence of respiratory illnesses.
Until the plan took effect, 22,000 outdated buses were used by more than 70 percent of Bogota's 7 million residents, while just 19 percent traveled in 850,000 individual cars. The Bogota bus fleet was too large (more than 3.5 buses for every 1,000 inhabitants), with a life of 14 years per unit and an average speed of 10km/h.
"Passengers spent an average of more than two hours a day in transit," said Transmilenio's chief of planning and administration, Angelica Castro.
The new system includes designated lanes for buses, four-lane roads with stops every 500 meters along the meridian, leaving the exterior lanes for non-stop buses. According to the plan, by 2016 the city will have 388km of bus lanes, 300km of bicycle routes and a new bus fleet equipped with catalytic converters to curb pollutants. They public buses will also be designed taking into account the needs of children, the elderly and the disabled. The program also seeks to dissuade the use of individual cars. In the works are a 100 percent hike in parking prices for downtown Bogota, and a 20 percent tax on gasoline. Half of those revenues will go toward financing infrastructure intended to fight air pollution.
In Mexico City, meanwhile, air pollution is legendary. The problem is due to geographic and climate conditions in the valley where the city is located, and to the density of the population, industry and vehicles, said MIT Professor Mario Molina, the 1995 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry. Molina heads an integral program on contamination in Mexico City, the objective of which is to understand the sources of pollution, improve development and foment education on the issue.
The program, drafted in agreement between MIT and the governmental Metropolitan Environment Commission, seeks to involve the business community and citizens in evaluating sources of contamination and in adopting measures to solve the air-pollution problem.
"In the first phase, we made recommendations that the government followed in its initiatives to curb emissions. The second phase entails additional studies, such as measuring contaminants that are not routinely monitored," said Molina. "We are attempting to understand better the chemistry of the atmosphere and the composition of the fine particles, which are very harmful to human health."
Only half of the automobiles in Mexico City have catalytic converters. The city should "provide incentives for renewal of the taxi fleet, which are relatively few but circulate many hours each day, and set deadlines for removing the oldest cars from the streets", Molina said. The situation of privately owned cars is more complicated. "Inspections are not rigorous, and many people need their old vehicles for work."
The solutions should be implemented gradually "so that they do not hurt the poorest sectors", and should include incentives promoting newer, less-polluting vehicles, and raise the cost of fuel "by just a few cents" in order to finance other efforts, such as improving public transportation, concluded Molina.
(Inter Press Service)
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