NEW STUDY: Material and Energy Requirements of Inclusive Development in 10 Indian Cities

March 19, 2018

What are the resource requirements of inclusive development  in cities? Will providing infrastructure services to underserved urban residents dramatically increase community-wide resource demand? These questions are at the heart of new findings from Sustainable Healthy Cities researchers who quantified the material and energy flows needed to upgrade infrastructure and services for residents consuming below median values in 10 Indian cities.

Study results show that more equitable service provision for underserved households will not dramatically alter community-wide resource flows. Instead, it is the highest consuming households, as well as commercial businesses and industry, that have the largest impact on community-wide material and energy use. The full study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Access the findings here.

Informal housing along the banks of a waterway in India typical of the types of housing that require upgrading through inclusive development policies.
Informal housing along the banks of a waterway in India . Credit: Dennis Jarvis, wikimedia commons

Among the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are targets to reduce poverty and hunger, advance good health and wellbeing, provide clean water and sanitation, ensure access to clean energy, reduce inequality, and foster sustainable cities and communities. Individual SDGs that are specifically connected to goals of increasing access to infrastructure services and material development are often framed as being pitted against SDGs that have efficiency, conservation, and environmental sustainability as their aim. The thinking goes that rising levels of infrastructure service consumption among the world’s urban poor will put untenable strain on resources.

This study partially debunks that argument by showing that for the most part, inclusive development efforts in the 10 Indian cities studied would not substantially alter community-wide resource flows. The work required first quantifying service provision deficits (relative to median use levels or established benchmarks in various sectors) in each city and then comparing that quantified value to community-wide material and energy flows. The methodology was applied across the sectors of housing, electricity, and household cooking fuels.

Across all 10 cities, results show:

  • To provide basic electricity (25 kWh capita-month) to all will require a 1% to 10% in current community-wide electricity use
  • To provide basic clean liquid petroleum gas (LPG) fuel (1.2 kg capita-month) to all requires an increase of 5% to 40% in current community-wide LPG use

In Delhi and Chandigarh specifically, results show:

  • Providing permanent shelter (implemented over a ten year period) to populations living in non-permanent housing would require a 6% to 14% increase over current annual community-wide cement use
  • To provide permanent housing to all people living in structurally unsound housing andthose living in overcrowded housing (<5 m cap−2) would require 32%–115% of current community-wide cement flows

The study authors note that, “except for the last scenario, these results suggest that social policies that seek to provide basic infrastructure provisioning for all residents would not dramatically increase current community-wide resource flows.”

Moreover, the study’s findings show wealthier households consuming many times more than the lowest consuming households. As a result, the authors note, “the increase to community-wide resource flows that would be needed for socially inclusive development policies as a percentage of overall community-wide resource flow is much less than the percentage of homes that are underserved or that must be upgraded.”

The study offers a methodology than can be replicated in cities globally using location-specific data to understand service provision deficits and the material and energy flows needed to correct those deficits via inclusive development policies.

Lead author Anu Ramaswami is director of the Sustainable Healthy Cities Network and is the Charles M. Denny, Jr., Chair of Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Co-lead author Ajay Nagpure is an affiliated Sustainable Healthy Cities researcher and a post-doctoral fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Co-author Mark Reiner is a research associate at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.