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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

2. Urban Environment and Human Health

Box 2.4 Household Environmental Problems, Wealth, and
                         City Size

Very large cities are often portrayed as environmental disasters, offering the worst of health conditions. Certainly, these so-called megacities suffer from serious citywide health threats such as air pollution. But there is evidence that household-level problems such as sanitation or indoor air pollution, which pose the most direct threat to human health, are actually less of a problem in mega-cities than in many of the smaller and poorer urban settlements.

Recent studies of Accra, Ghana (1), Jakarta, Indonesia (2), and Sao Paulo, Brazil (3), confirm that bigger is not necessarily worse. Sao Paulo (9.6 million population) is larger and wealthier than Jakarta (8.2 million population), which in turn is larger and wealthier than Accra (1.2 million population) (4). Even Accra can be considered relatively large, since about two thirds of the urban population in developing countries live in cities of less than 1 million residents.

When researchers compared a series of household environmental indicators (e.g., the availability of piped water or the presence of flies in the kitchen) in Accra, Jakarta, and Sao Paulo, the household conditions improved based on the relative wealth of the city. In all cases, household conditions were better in Sao Paulo than in Jakarta, and better in Jakarta than in Accra. (See Table 1.) Other detailed household statistics also confirm this trend. The most obvious explanation is the relative wealth of the three cities.

Indeed, as indicated in Table 2, similar patterns can be observed by looking across different neighborhoods of Accra. The wealthy neighborhoods of Accra seem to have roughly the same access to water and sanitation as the Sao Paulo average, whereas the middle-class neighborhoods are roughly comparable to the Jakarta average.

References and Notes

1. George Benneh et al., Environmental Problems and the Urban Household in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA)--Ghana (Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, 1993).

2. Charles Surjadi et al., Household Environmental Problems in Jakarta (Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, 1994).

3. Pedro Jacobi, Environmental Problems Facing the Urban Household in the City of Sao Paulo, Brazil (Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, 1994).

4. These population figures differ from those reported in United Nations (U.N.) Population Division, World Urbanization Prospects: 1994 Revision (U.N., New York, 1994). As discussed in Chapter 1, "Cities and the Environment," city population figures can differ dramatically depending on the administrative boundaries used. To maintain the consistency of this health study, these population figures instead of those published by the U.N. are being used.

Table of Contents

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