The 11th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) i.e., ‘Sustainable cities and communities’, was provisioned as a result of the growing issue of unsustainable urban practices and its repercussions on communities. The aim of this SDG is to promote wider business opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and building resilient societies and economies through ten targets and 15 indicators. This is presently tackled in two ways. The first is to legislate international conventions as a means of providing guidelines for countries to follow and ratify. While they aren’t legally binding, recommendations in each of these international legislations are imperative to gauge the knowledge gap some countries may face in tackling issues of this scale. Secondly, it is for local governments to play a greater role in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure that both SDG targets and national targets are met.
The response of the international community
Within SDG 11, the global community is required to safeguard their cultural heritage amidst rapid urbanization, reduce disaster risks, provide inclusive public spaces and most importantly sustain them. UN bodies such as UN-HABITAT, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO) are some designated entities overseeing the counter measures on an international scale.
Additionally, frameworks such as the New Urban Agenda (NUA) have been pivotal in tackling the global housing crisis by outlining ways of ensuring affordable and safe housing. Countries implementing this agenda are required to follow a strict legal procedure in the management of housing, design, build space-efficient settlements and manage finances via. Cities such as Medellin, Nairobi, and Harare have all developed participatory, inclusive schemes of slum and neighbourhood renovation or upgrading. Developed cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Mexico, Durban, London, Montreal, Montevideo, New York, Paris, and Seoul launched the Cities for Adequate Housing Declaration (Spotlight on Sustainable Development, 2019).
A key aspect which determines the capacity of any city is its ability to withstand and mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Tackling disaster risks in urban areas have been twofold, on one end policies which mitigate the effects of climate change need to be given precedence and on the other end, these policies need to complement the urban plan in the given region. For example, Dakar is implementing its Territorial Climate Energy Plan (PCET) to reduce pollution assisted by the Covenant of Mayors and the EU. The Australian state of Queensland launched in 2017 an ambitious integrated energy policy to achieve 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 with the creation of CleanCo, a renewable publicly owned energy generator.
How has Sri Lanka tackled the situation?
In the wake of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) Sri Lanka took the forefront in promptly meeting these targets. However, we have lagged in meeting the targets for certain SDGs. While there are many commendable efforts taken by each regime, empirical evidence points to the inability to sustain policies with each regime concerning Goal 11. Nevertheless, the existing provisions for ensuring better housing and urban development must be commended.
The National Physical Plan Policy (NPP) has been effective in providing permanent housing in partnership with the private sector. The Urban Development Authority (UDA) launched a project to provide 50,000 housing units to low and middle-income groups within five years starting from 2016 to cater to the growing demand for housing in urban areas. Due to the growing demand for public transport resulting from people commuting intra-district and inter-district, The Ministry of Megapolis & Western Development (MMWD) initiated the “Sukitha Purawara” programme to develop 21 strategically important townships in the western region of the country and has now extended to develop more townships throughout the country. Other projects which facilitate public transport include: Gemi Seriya (public transport to rural communities), Nisi Seriya (public transport at night) and Sisu Seriya (public transport for school goers). Additionally, the construction of the expressways has been pivotal in accelerating economic processes and cross-country travel. Bearing in mind the dynamism of the economy, environment, and urban ecosystems, the NPP is currently undergoing revisions. The objective of these revisions is to provide a broad national level guidance for all development agencies for the planning and execution of development activities.
A plethora of factors affect the functionality of our urban sector at present given that most secondary and tertiary economic activities are facilitated in urban areas. Hence mitigating the effects of natural disasters and other climatic conditions are vital. Natural phenomena such as torrential rains, floods, landslips, and prolonged droughts affect cities in Sri Lanka. The fundamental reasons behind this include poor drainage systems and many unplanned settlements. Overcrowding, which is a direct result of this, gives rise to disease, poverty, and crime. Air quality is a matter of concern in Colombo at present. However, many programs have been implemented to reduce this issue. The Vehicle Emission Testing Programme which was launched in 2008 has helped to reduce toxic air particles from the atmosphere. Waste Management has been a prolonged issue faced by urban areas especially regarding its disposal and recycling.
Sri Lanka’s urban plan policy has undoubtedly seen massive development over the years. However, the present climate crisis, socio-political and economical situation will require policies to result in cities being more resilient, safe, and functional.
– Rtr. Shihara Ferdinando
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