Section IV C. Sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world
5. Environmentally sustainable, healthy and liveable human settlements

128. Sustainable human settlements depend on the creation of a better environment for human health and well-being, which will improve the living conditions of people and decrease disparities in the quality of their lives. The health of the population depends at least as much on the control of environmental causes of poor health as on clinical responses to disease. Children are particularly vulnerable to harmful urban environments and must be protected. Measures to prevent ill health and disease are as important as the availability of appropriate medical treatment and care. It is therefore essential to take a holistic approach to health, whereby both prevention and care are placed within the context of environmental policy, supported by effective management systems and plans of action incorporating targets that reflect local needs and capacities.

129. Health problems related to adverse environmental conditions, including a lack of access to safe water and sanitation, inadequate waste management, poor drainage, air pollution, and exposure to excessive noise levels, as well as ineffective and inadequate health services, exact a heavy toll on the quality of life and the overall contribution to society of millions of people. They may also aggravate social tension and inequity and increase the vulnerability of people to the effects of disasters. An integrated approach to the provision of environmentally sound infrastructure in human settlements, particularly for people living in poverty in rural and urban areas, is an investment in sustainable human settlements development that can enhance the quality of life, reduce negative impacts on the environment, improve the overall health of a population, and reduce the burden of investment in curative health and poverty alleviation.

130. Many pollution-related risks to health are particularly high in urban areas, as well as in low-income areas, because of higher concentrations of pollutants from, inter alia, industry, traffic, fumes from cooking and heating devices, overcrowding and inadequate solid and liquid waste management. Environmental risks in the home and the workplace may have a disproportionate impact on the health of women and children because of their different susceptibilities and rates of exposure to the toxic effects of various chemicals and given the nature of the tasks that women frequently undertake. Environmental risks may also have a disproportionate impact on children.

131. Many environmental contaminants, such as radioactive materials and persistent organic pollutants, work their way into the food chain and eventually into human beings, thus compromising the health of present and future generations.

132. Exposure to heavy metals, including lead and mercury, may have persistent and harmful effects on human health and development and on the environment. Children and people living in poverty are often particularly vulnerable, and it is of special concern that the effects of high lead levels on children's intellectual development are irreversible. Effective and affordable alternatives to many of the uses of these metals are available. Appropriate alternatives should be sought for those products where exposure to lead can be neither controlled nor managed.

133. Unsustainable and wasteful production and consumption patterns also lead to increasing problems in waste management. It is essential to intensify efforts aimed at minimizing the production and discharge of waste, and at recycling and reuse as much as possible and disposing of the remainder in an environmentally sound manner. This will require changes in attitudes and consumption patterns and in the design of buildings and neighbourhoods, as well as innovative, efficient and sustainable modalities for waste management.

134. The design of the built environment is recognized as having an impact on people's well-being and behaviour and, thereby, on people's health. Good design in new housing and in upgrading and rehabilitation is important for the creation of sustainable living conditions. The design of high-rise housing should complement the context of the neighbourhood in which it will be located. In particular, the large-scale development of high-rise housing can bring social and environmental disadvantages; therefore special attention should be paid to the quality of its design, including the scale and height, proper maintenance, regular technical inspection and safety measures.

135. The liveability of the built environment has an important bearing on the quality of life in human settlements. Quality of life implies those attributes catering for the diversified and growing aspirations of citizens that go beyond the satisfaction of basic needs. Liveability refers to those spatial, social and environmental characteristics and qualities that uniquely contribute to people's sense of personal and collective well-being and to their sense of satisfaction in being the residents of that particular settlement. The aspirations for liveability vary from place to place, and evolve and change in time; they also differ among the diverse populations that make up communities. Therefore, conditions for liveable human settlements presuppose a working democracy in which processes of participation, civic engagement and capacity-building mechanisms are institutionalized.


136. To improve the health and well-being of all people throughout their life-span, particularly people living in poverty, Governments at the appropriate levels, including local authorities, in partnership with other interested parties, should:

137. To improve environmental conditions and reduce industrial and domestic waste and other forms of health risks in human settlements, Governments at the appropriate levels and in partnership with all interested parties should: 138. Recognizing the need for an integrated approach to the provision of those environmental services and policies that are essential for human life, Governments at the appropriate levels, in partnership with other interested parties, should: 139. In order to promote a healthy environment that will continue to support adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements for current and future generations, Governments at the appropriate levels, in partnership with all relevant interested parties, should: 140. Water resources management in human settlements presents an outstanding challenge for sustainable development. It combines the challenge of securing for all the basic human need for a reliable supply of safe drinking water and meeting the competing demands of industry and agriculture, which are crucial to economic development and food security, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their water needs.

141. Meeting this challenge requires an integrated approach to water resources management that takes cognizance of the links between water, sanitation and health, between the economy and the environment, and between cities and their hinterland, and harmonizes land-use planning and housing policies with water sector policies and ensures a comprehensive and coherent approach to setting and enforcing realistic standards. A strong political commitment, cooperation across disciplines and sectors, and an active partnership of all interested parties is essential to integrated water resources management. To this end, Governments at the appropriate levels, in partnership with other interested parties, should:

142. To improve the liveability of human settlements, Governments at the appropriate levels and in partnership with other interested parties should promote: 143. In a globalizing economy, the increasing occurrence of transboundary pollution and the transfer across national borders and regions of technologies hazardous to the environment can represent a serious threat to the environmental conditions of human settlements and the health of their inhabitants. Governments should therefore cooperate to develop further international legal mechanisms to implement principle 13 of the Rio Declaration regarding liability and compensation for adverse effects of environmental damage caused by activities within their jurisdiction or control to areas beyond their jurisdiction. The international community, international organizations and Governments should also seek appropriate preventive measures in cases of clear risk of major environmental accidents with transboundary effects. Furthermore, States should be guided by principle 16 of the Rio Declaration, which encourages the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution.

144. In seeking to prevent transboundary pollution and minimize its impact on human settlements when it does occur, Governments should cooperate to develop appropriate mechanisms for assessing the environmental impact of proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment, including an evaluation of relevant comments provided by other potentially affected countries. Governments should also cooperate to develop and implement mechanisms for prior and timely notification, exchange of information and consultation in good faith, and mitigation of the potential adverse effects regarding those activities, taking into account existing international agreements and instruments.

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