To put it simply, Indian cities are in trouble. By 2030, India is expected to have 590 million people living in cities. 68 cities will have a population of 1 million plus. The implications of such rapid urbanisation are unprecedented. Clubbed with the changes wrought by multiple crises, cities in India are already showing signs of being under severe stress as the reports below suggest:
- In the WWF Water Risk Filter, of the 100 cities that are expected to suffer the greatest rise in water risk by 2050, 30 are Indian cities (DH, Nov 2020).
- A 2018 Niti Aayog report outlined how ‘With nearly 70% of water being contaminated, India is placed at 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index’ and that ‘54% of India’s groundwater wells are declining, and 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020’.
- Twenty-one of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution are in India, with six in the top ten (IQAir AirVisual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report).
- Four Indian cities are among 45 coastal port cities globally where even an increase of sea level by 50 cm will lead to flooding while several others in the north India will be exposed to acute water crisis due to melting of Himalayan glaciers by the end of the century (IPCC Report).
- Only a quarter of the total 1.43 lakh metric tonnes of garbage generated in Indian cities, undergoes processing every day. The remaining is generally dumped in open landfills, which overflows and pollutes the surrounding land, air and groundwater (BI, Jul 2018).
The Global Context
The above situation is clubbed with serious global level concerns. In the words of E.O Wilson, also known as the father of biodiversity, “The human juggernaut is permanently eroding Earth’s ancient biosphere by a combination of forces that can be summarized by the acronym “HIPPO,” the animal hippo.” He outlines these as: H is for habitat destruction, including climate change forced by greenhouse gases; I is for invasive species; the first P, for pollution; the second P, for human population explosion; and, the final letter O for over-harvesting and driving species to extinction.
Cities and its inhabitants have to not only grapple with existing issues but also think about how they can shape the cities of the future in terms of being cognizant of these existential concerns.
The Stake of the Citizen
These statistics manifest in our daily experience of living in the city – be it passing by unsegregated garbage on the streets or empty plots that pollute our water systems, having difficulty accessing clean drinking water, being able to breathe clean air or experiencing entrenched poverty. In so many myriad and very real and personal ways the quality of our lives is impacted by the state of our cities, our homes.
As inhabitants we have the deepest stake in ensuring that the livability of these spaces be improved not only for ourselves but for the future generations.