Health Equity and Sustainable Urban Growth

Vipin Kumar

Better livelihood, proper medical facilities, and higher education are responsible for the continuous movement of people from rural to urban areas.  Almost 30% of the total Indian population resides in cities (Census 2011) and contributes around 50% of the total GDP. To achieve effective economic development, sustainable utilization of resources is obligatory. Water is one such resource which is 100% non-replaceable. Yet, an ever-increasing urban population is demanding an increased supply of water, of which, 98% is discharged as wastewater (Kumar M. D., 2014).

Efficient recycling of wastewater may possibly reduce the burden on urban water supply. The treated water can be used in gardening, vehicle washing and toilet flush. Unfortunately, at present, only 26% of domestic wastewater is treated, while the rest is directly discharged into lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, thereby, overwhelming these water resources with hazardous toxins. Urbanization also often leads to the establishment of unauthorized and unplanned settlements like J.J. (Jhuggi Jhopari) colonies or slums that cater to the economically deprived masses of the society.  These settlements are often found in the vicinity of commercial/residential/industrial establishments because, firstly, being located close to these establishments increases the chances of finding employment, and secondly, travel cost between home and work would be minimal. Unfortunately, poor quality water supply and improper sanitation make these areas unhygienic and uninhabitable, increasing the vulnerability of residents to potential health disorders.

While water scarcity is not an issue for the affluent urban dwellers of the city, the less affluent are ones who are severely affected by the intermittent supply of water. Also, the economically sound people are able to afford technologies such as water purifiers that provides them cover from waterborne diseases. However, in the settlement colonies, scanty water supply is closely associated with poor hygiene and improper sanitation facilities which then leads to an increased risk of catching infections. Lack of water for routine activities may cause severe pathogenic diseases like typhoid, diarrhoea and conjunctivitis – diseases which also happen to be responsible for infant mortality in developing countries (Gerba C. P., & Pepper I. L.).

Improper sanitation conditions in slums make them reservoirs of numerous pathogens, and if the issue is left unaddressed, there are high chances of some killer infections spreading in the society. It has been predicted that, by the year 2030, 75% of India’s total GDP will be from urban areas. As we approach this figure, the sustainable and equitable utilization of water resources should become increasingly obligatory. For holistic growth, policymakers should focus on sustainable development along with properly addressing the problems of the economically weaker sections of the society. And one way of achieving this is perhaps by the implementation of a model of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), of which I will address in a future blog post.


  • Kumar M. D. (2014). Why is sustainable urban water management critical for survival of cities, In Thirsty cities, Oxford University Press, India, pp. 22-34
  • Gerba C. P., & Pepper I. L. (2006). Microbial contaminants, In Environmental and Pollution Science, (Eds) Pepper I. L., Gerba C. P., & Brusseau M. L. Academic Press, Elsevier, UK, pp. 144-169

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