Document Type


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Working Paper 4


The paper discusses challenges, trends, and transitions in the urban environment field and offers an approach to meeting Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets in water supply and sanitation in urban areas. It updates the author’s 1994 publication Urban Environmental Challenges: New Directions for Technical Assistance to Cities inDeveloping Countries, published by the World Resources Institute. This paper begins by describing governance, decentralization, and privatization trends and drawing lessons from international development experiences in cities in developing countries. It argues that pervasive governance problems have led to environmental service deficits, particularly amongst the poor, who, at the same time, have demonstrated tremendous ingenuity in obtaining for themselves what their municipalities have not provided. The paper examines the global urban environmental agenda through a review of summit meetings and key initiatives of major international development agencies. This review of the global agenda – from Rio to Johannesburg – leads to the judgment that the most important urban environmental challenges today are defined by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It argues that meeting MDG targets related to poverty alleviation, access to water and sanitation, and improvements in the lives of slum dwellers will provide the greatest improvement to environmental quality in urban areas.

In light of the current retrenchment of multinationals in the water sector, and the financial limitations faced by governments and international donor agencies, this paper offers an alternative that involves promoting the integration and optimization of water supply and sanitation services being provided by Small Scale Independent Providers (SSIPs) in order to meet MDG targets in urban areas. The paper argues that, to unleash SSIP/informal sector potential and resources, several barriers need to be eliminated – informal sector entrepreneurs operating in a difficult environment, with lack of recognition, police harassment, insecure tenure, and lack of access to credit being among the most common constraints and disincentives. It suggests that national and local governments, with the support of international development agencies, can achieve the flexibility in the policies, standards, and regulations that would allow the integration and optimization of informal sector potential. A merger of informal sector“bottom-up” and formal sector “top-down” approaches would mark one of the most significant transitions in the international development field today. Long-term commitments will be necessary from governments, donors, and independent private organizations to implement this approach.