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Managing the urban environment: Some possibilities

The brief overview of the state of urban environments in selected cities illustrates the kind of issues and extent of the problems faced by urban areas in South-East Asia. While many of the problems are city-specific, a number are common to cities all over the region. Even though some aspects have been enhanced and improved, the general state of the environment and quality of life for many parts of the cities are deteriorating despite mitigating and preventive measures taken by means of land-use planning, legislation or environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures.

In Malaysia, for example, all the above measures are being implemented with varying degrees of success. The Environmental Quality Act (EQA) which was passed by Parliament in 1974 forms the basis of much of the legislation. Currently, there are at least 15 laws under the EQA which are being enforced by the DOE (Table 15.8). In addition, several other pieces of legislation have been enacted but are being enforced separately by local governments and other government agencies (Table 15.9).

Under Section 34A of the Environmental Quality (Amendment) Act 1985, the EIA is a requirement. This section empowers the Minister in charge of the environment to label any activity which is likely to have significant impacts on the environment as a 'prescribed activity' which requires an EIA study. The EQA (Prescribed Activity) (EIA) Order 1987 was gazetted on 5 November 1987 and enforced from 1 April 1988.

TABLE 15.8 Legislation Enforced by the DOE, Malaysia as at 1 January 1990

Motor Vehicle (Control of Smoke and Gas Emissions) Rules 1977 made under the Road Traffic Ordinance 1958.
EQA 1974 and the Environmental Quality (Amendment) Act 1985.
Environmental Quality (Licensing) Regulations 1977.
Environmental Quality (Prescribed Premises) (Crude Palm Oil) Order 1977.
Environmental Quality (Prescribed Premises) (Crude Palm Oil) Regulations 1977.
Environmental Quality (Prescribed Premises) (Raw Natural Rubber) Order 1978.
Environmental Quality (Clean Air) Regulations 1978.
Environmental Quality (Compounding of Offences) Regulations 1978.
Environmental Quality (Sewage and Industrial Effluents) Regulations 1979.
Environmental Quality (Control of Lead Concentration in Motor Gasoline) Regulations 1985.
Environmental Quality (Motor Vehicle Noise' Regulations 1987.
Environmental Quality (Prescribed Activities) (EIA) Order 1987.
Environmental Quality (Prescribed Premises) (Scheduled Wastes) Regulations 1989.
Environmental Quality (Prescribed Premises) (Scheduled Wastes Treatment and Disposal Facilities) Order 1989.
Environmental Quality (Prescribed Premises) (Scheduled Wastes Treatment and Disposal Facilities) Regulations 1989.

TABLE 15.9 Environment-related Legislation, Ma]aysia

The Waters Enactments 1920. Factories and Machinery Act 1967.
Mining Enactments 1929. Radioactive Substances Act 1968.
Forest Enactments 1934. Malaria Eradication Act 1971.
Poisons Ordinance 1951. Protection of Wildlife Act 1972.
Dangerous Drugs Ordinance 1952. Trade Description Act 1972.
Explosive Drugs Ordinance 1952. Environmental Quality Act 1974.
The Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952. Petroleum Development Act 1974.
Sale of Food and Drug Ordinance 1952. Streets, Drainage and Building Act 1974.
Federation Port Rules 1953. City of Kuala Lumpur (Planning)
The Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954. Act 1975.
Drainage Works Ordinance 1954. Destruction of Disease Bearing Insects
Medicine (Advertisement and Sale) Act 1975.
Ordinance 1956 Municipal and Town Boards
The Road Traffic Ordinance 1958. (Amendment) Act 1975.
Land Conservation Act 1960. Pesticides Act 1975.
Fisheries Act 1963. Antiquities Act 1976.
National Land Code 1965. Local Government Act 1976.
Continental Shelf Act 1966. Town and Country Planning Act 1976.
Housing Developers (Control The National Parks Act 1980.
and Licensing) Act 1966. National Forestry Act 1984

The Malaysian example reflects, in general terms, the use of legislation in most developing countries of South-East Asia. The issue, however, is not the lack of legislation but rather the effectiveness of enforcement of such laws in practice. In Malaysia as in many developing countries, limited manpower and funds is a major factor in the poor enforcement of legal instruments and environmental conservation and improvement programmes. The small fines levied for non-compliance also contribute to the ineffectiveness of legislation in certain cases. The latest report by the DOE (1989) shows that although the maximum fine is high, the actual amount paid for non-compliance is small. In 1988, a total of 28 cases were prosecuted and fines of M$48,850 were collected, that is, an average of M$1,745 per case. For compounded cases, a total of 87 compounds were issued and a sum of M$33,000 collected, that is, an average of M$380 per case. Vehicles issued with summonses paid only between M$6 and M$62 each. As a deterrent, such fines are meaningless. For many, it is cheaper to flout the regulations than comply with the standards.

It is still too early to pass any judgement on the effectiveness of the EIA procedure in the Malaysian context, or indeed in many countries of South-East Asia. While EIA is acceptable as a useful tool in resource conservation and management, it is still relatively new in this part of the world, but it is only slowly gaining acceptance. It is still uncertain how many of the recommendations, especially those with respect to mitigating measures and monitoring, are finally being implemented. Generally, a post-audit is only rarely considered, if at all. In many cases, this part of the EIA procedure is usually ignored. Public participation is also limited. Although EIA reports are posted in public places to solicit response, very little is actually forthcoming. Perhaps the level of public awareness and commitment is still very low, although, in some cases, the issue can be quite explosive.

In urban areas, there are likely to be many development projects for which an EIA will not be mandatory, as they fall outside the gazetted definitions of 'prescribed activities'. This is especially so in Malaysia. Nevertheless, much of the land that remains undeveloped within an urban area can be environmentally very sensitive (for example, steep hills). It may be necessary to apply the EIA procedure to some developments that are not currently covered under the law. Environmentally sensitive areas should be identified, listed and mapped, following which ElAs should be made mandatory for any proposed new developments within them.

A review of the state of urban environments in major South-East Asian cities also indicates that environmental problems are complex and closely related to socio-economic and population factors. Specific legislation on environmental pollution control alone is not going to be fully effective. Any attempt to plan and manage the urban environment will inevitably have to be concerned with the entire city system and its interdependence with the rural hinterland and the outside world.

One approach which attempts to understand the city in a holistic manner is that of the ecosystem. Since an ecosystem is defined as the organisms of a locality together with their related environment, considered as a unit, such an approach allows us to examine the city in systematic and operational terms, to assess the flows of energy and matter into and out of the city and to trace their circulation within it. Such a framework also allows not only identification of specific problems for individual cities within the region but also intercity comparison. The latter enables the identification of common problems for which joint mitigating efforts through regional co-operation may be taken.

Such a system framework also offers a good basis for developing an explicit national urbanization strategy within which innovative and effective local solutions to urban problems can be evolved. A national urban strategy could provide a set of goals and priorities for the development of an acceptable system in which the large, intermediate, and small centres can be promoted. Within such a framework, the traditional tools of urban policies including land-use planning and pollution control would stand a better chance of being effective. Once this is achieved, the next step will be to strengthen the capacity of local governments so that effective solutions to local urban problems can be identified and implemented.

The institutional and legal structures of local governments in many developing countries of South-East Asia are generally not equipped for such purposes. The lack of access to an adequate financial base is a major weakness.

Most local governments have difficulties generating revenue to cover operating expenses, let alone to make new investments to extend services and facilities. To become effective agents of development, local governments and municipalities need enhanced political, institutional and financial capacities, notably access to more of the wealth generated in the urban areas.

While the role of legislation and institutions in the administration of policies and programmes regarding the urban environment is recognized, public support is equally essential in ensuring the success of such programmes. Public support, however, can only be expected from well-informed citizens who are aware (of the problem), committed and willing to do something about it. This means that at both the federal and local levels, ways to educate the public and disseminate environmental information need to be expanded. Since environmental education is basically aimed towards community action, efforts to reach the different target groups must be varied, involving both government institutions and a wide range of non-governmental organizations, including private and commercial enterprises and the mass media.

The countries of South-East Asia can also do a great deal together to develop policy concepts, programmes and the necessary institutions to tackle the urban problems they share. As each country within the region devises broad national urban strategies, it is important that they share experiences on the management of their growing cities, the development of small and intermediate centres, strengthening of local governments, upgrading illegal settlements, crisis-response measures and on a range of other problems that are generally unique to the Third World. It is in this regard that a co-ordinated, systematic study of the major cities of South-East Asia could be useful. Information from such research could also provide a basis for rethinking the future of these cities.

Figure 15.5 shows a simplified framework upon which an urban ecosystem study may be based. The framework is a modified version of that discussed at the Ecoville Seminar in Kuala Lumpur in November 1983 (Yip and Low, 1984). The economy is considered to be the most important driving force behind urban growth. With expansion of the publicand private-sector economies, especially industries, construction, services and infrastructure, city growth is enhanced. Increased population pressure resulting from such growth will inevitably cause an impact on the environment. The consequences are both social and environmental for which policy and planning responses are vital. Some of these responses, either in terms of policies or planning, have already been adopted, but need modifications as new information and ideas become available.

As of the early 1990s, a number of studies on various aspects of the city systems in the region have either been completed or are currently continuing. However, most, if not all of these, are individual reports on specific aspects of the city with few overall linkages. A more co-ordinated ecological study of the major city systems in South-East Asia is certainly timely and should be undertaken collectively on a regional basis. One way to organize such a programme is through the formation of an urban ecosystem working group in each of the participating countries.

FIGURE 15.5 Components in an Urban Ecosystem Study

One such group was formed in Malaysia in 1985 with assistance from UNESCO/ROSTSEA in Jakarta. Consisting of scientists from the social, physical and life sciences, and co-ordinated under the umbrella of the Malaysian National Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Committee, the principal aim of the Urban Ecosystem Working Group (UEWG) is to examine the city in a holistic manner and on an ecosystem basis. However, while an ideal approach would be to examine the city comprehensively from the outset, the lack of resources and manpower has led the UEWG to proceed slowly and attempt to achieve its final aim later. Here, the approach is to start with small but systematic studies of the city subsystems using whatever resources are available and synthesizing these into a comprehensive study perhaps after several years. In the meantime, the policy implications of the subsystem studies will be analysed and applied whenever relevant. This latter approach inevitably has many disadvantages, but in the absence of substantial support funds, there is no alternative.

The initial project of the UEWG was on the urban ecosystem studies of Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley urban region. The long-term aim was to extend similar studies to 'intermediate size urban areas' as it is believed that these would be the focus of future development and population concentration. The major publication of the UEWC) is the Tropical Urban Ecosystem Studies series. As of 1992, eight volumes have been produced on various aspects of the Klang Valley urban region and other tropical, urban issues.'

Work is now under way in two intermediate size urban areas, Seremban and Johore Bahru. The main objectives of the study are to document urban activities in these two centres, assess the way in which such activities have affected the biophysical environment, and recommend forward planning and mitigating measures to improve the quality of the urban environment.

In order to ensure that ideas and recommendations on issues discussed in the publication series reach the planners, policy makers and environmental managers, the reports are disseminated to key government departments free of charge. Indeed, some recommendations-especially those on the heat island, the tree-planting programmes, environmental education and urban atmospheric pollution-have been well received and are being incorporated into the overall plan when appropriate (see, for example, the environment chapter in the Perlis Master Plan 1987: the Klang Valley Environmental Improvement Project 1987).

Concluding remarks

This chapter has provided an overview of some of the major environmental issues in selected cities of South-East Asia. It notes that while some of these problems are cityspecific, many of them are common to almost all centres. The respective governments are taking various mitigating measures-within their means-to minimize the negative side-effects of urbanization, but the need to have a more systematic programme on the planning and management of urban ecosystems everywhere is all too obvious.

Attention has been drawn to the complexities of the environmental issues in an urban setting. In South-East Asia, these are closely linked to socio-economic and population factors. Thus, any attempt to develop planning and management programmes for urban areas will first have to understand the city as a system, its connections with the outside world and linkages between the various components within the system. To this end, a co-ordinated systematic study is proposed to provide a basis for rethinking the future of South-East Asian cities.

Editorial comment

The discussion on the above topic was opened by Jaime Nierras of the University of the Philippines. He spoke principally of the experience of Metro Manila, which is growing in population by 4 per cent each year. In addition to immigration, improvements in transport are leading to urbanization of an increasingly wide area around the city. The problems outlined by Sham are all present in Metro Manila, and he particularly mentioned the problem of solid-waste disposal, for which quite inadequate arrangements exist. Floods have been made much worse by the blockage of drainage pipes by garbage consisting of large numbers of plastic bags. In the absence of control over land use, good agricultural land around the city is increasingly being built over. Development is impressive, but is the degradation of the urban and pert-urban environment an inevitable price that has to be paid?

The question of pert-urban change was taken up in discussion, and with it the need for urbanization policies around such cities as Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila and Kuala Lumpur. Attention was drawn to a study of in situ urbanization of villages around Kuala Lumpur, and changes in the use and value of their land; speculation has been a major element in raising the price of agricultural land far above normal levels (Brookfield, Abdul Samad Hadi and Zaharah Mahmud, 1991). A further effect of pert-urban growth is a great increase in the lead content of vegetation along roads, and doubtless also in marketgarden crops grown close to the roads. The problems of the city can no longer be considered in isolation from those of surrounding areas that still appear rural. Within cities, the lack of enforcement of emission standards is a major obstacle to the control of pollution. In Bangkok, for example, 70 per cent of buses would have to be taken off the road if emission regulations were strictly applied. Most regulations offer goals for environmental quality, not standards which are legally binding.

Sorting and recycling of solid wastes is, to some degree, already a fact, being an opportunity for the very poor in many regional cities. Most scavengers live in the squatter settlements close to waste dumps, and in Manila, some whole communities live among the garbage dumps. While the very poor continue to exist, it would be socially damaging to replace this 'system' with incineration or other modern methods. However, incineration is the practice in Singapore, which has been much more successful in managing its urban space than other cities; enormous improvements have been achieved since the early 1960s. A lot can be learned from Singapore, a city-state with a very strong political will. However, before the example of Singapore can be widely copied, it would first be necessary to clear up or improve the squatter settlements around other cities. It was argued, for example, that any improvement in the quality of the Klang River in Kuala Lumpur needs to begin with the squatter settlements along the river banks, and only then followed by enlargement of the central sewerage system.

Finally, the link between urban and regional pollution was discussed. Poor ventilation of the urban atmosphere is sometimes compounded by a double temperature inversion above the cities during very dry periods. It is during these drought spells that thickening of the general haze-arising from land clearance, cultivation and fires-sometimes reduces urban visibility to as near as 500 metres. This discussion took place before the major regional haze/smog problem of August-October 1991, which extended from Java to southern Thailand, and was associated with forest fires. The smog was worst in the urban areas.

1. Publications of the Tropical Urban Ecosystem Studies series: Volume 1: The Klang Valley Region: Some Selected Issues, 1986; Volume 2: The Sungai Klang: Problems and prospects, 1987; Volume 3: Meteorological and Air Quality Impact Evaluation of the Klang Valley Region, 1987; Volume 4: Environmental Profiles of Selected Cities in Southeast Asia. 1988; Volume 5: Contemporary Urban Issues in Malaysia' 1988; An Urban Ecosystem Study of the Kajang-Bandar Baru Bangi Corridor. 1989; Volume 7: Bandar Baru Bangi: Profile of a University Town in Malaysia. 1990; Volume 8: Seremban: A Metropolitan Shadow , 1992.

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