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3.6.3 Policy framework

A number of major policies and programmes have been implemented by governments of the Asia and Pacific Region to address issues of environmental stress in urban and rural settlements. These include:

  • urban development strategies;

  • strengthening local government and involvement of NGOs;

  • housing and services for the poor;

  • urban land management, and

  • resource mobilisation.

Typically throughout the region, national authorities are responsible for establishing environmental policy, and developing the appropriate legislation and standards for its implementation at local government level. As a result, provincial and state governments have been increasingly entrusted with carrying out environmental management, requiring considerable investment in planning, training staff and purchasing equipment. However, most local authorities throughout the developing countries are granted neither adequate financial resources nor adequate revenue raising powers by central government to carry out effective environmental management. Another major problem with this approach is that ultimately conflicts of interest will arise both within and between local authorities regarding the benefits of economic development versus environmental protection. With little or no accountability under law, this can lead to serious consequences for the environment.

Many governments of the region have placed high emphasis on mobilising community-based organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in a bid to strengthen environmental management at the local level. NGO programmes have proved to be particularly effective in areas such as public awareness and environmental education. Similarly, community participation is increasingly being encouraged during the planning process to ensure that environmental protection schemes are both appropriate and workable. Whilst the involvement of NGOs and community groups is still largely on an informal basis, some countries have made it mandatory with legislative provision. For instance, recent legislation in the Philippines requires involvement of NGOs and other private sector leaders in the committees that prepare local capital budgets (Kingly and Mikelsons, 1991). Informal co-operatives among low-income groups have also proved to be successful at managing local environmental resources.

NGOs have grown at an unprecedented rate in the last ten to fifteen years. With varying degrees of skill, they have shown that they can:

  • reach poor populations unserved by other agencies;

  • mobilise local resources and build local organisations:

  • provide relatively low cost services to unserved populations;

  • create innovative solutions to complex problems:

  • organise networks of diverse organisations around shared visions: and

  • act as intermediaries between governments and the community, serving to link communities to the wider political processes.

NGOs staffed with professional planners, architects, engineers and social workers have provided technical advice and helped co-ordinate numerous small-scale environmental projects in low-income countries. The famous Orangi Pilot Project provides a very good example, where the urban poor were provided with access to sanitation and drainage through innovative projects conceived by an NGO, and implemented through co-operative efforts by low income households in one community (ESCAP 1992).

With few exceptions, most governments in developing countries have largely avoided formulating urban land policies aimed at increasing the land access of low-income households. Responses towards this issue have largely been confined to actions such as subsidised housing for the poor, rather than addressing the underlying causes. Given that the overall task of extending urban water supply and sanitation services to the poor, which is going to be exacerbated by the increasing shift of the burden of poverty from rural areas to the urban centres, it is important that the fundamental question of land access and overcrowding is addressed in the near future.

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