Joburg second in global study

26 March 2008

Johannesburg is ranked the second least vulnerable city to urbanisation and the environment in a new study of major centres in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

This is according to the Worldwide Centres of Commerce Index, which was conducted as a result of the United Nations Population Fund concluding in 2006 that the world’s urban population exceeded its rural population, making 2007 the first year in which humans existed as an “urban species”.

Joburg was included as one of 21 cities ranked among the top 50 of the world’s centres of commerce.

In 2007, the MasterCard Worldwide Urbanization and Environmental Challenges report launched its first Worldwide Centres of Commerce Index. The report ranked leading global cities along three dimensions, providing a first ever assessment of how these cities contribute to global commerce.

The report looked at the vulnerability of 21 cities and key environmental factors like air and water pollution that directly affect the quality of life in those cities, and the risks to the health and safety of their residents. The sustainability of a city’s growth is closely linked to how that city maintains its environment.

“With urbanisation and urban living comes a new challenge, that of protecting and improving the urban environment. Nowhere is this more acute and pressing than across the Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa region,” says the report.

Melbourne in Australia ranks top with a score of 2.03 (the highest possible score being 1); Johannesburg comes in second at 2.37, with Singapore ranked third with 2.40. At the bottom of the ranking is Mumbai in India with a score of 7.78.

The author of the report, Dr Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, is quoted by I-Net Bridge as saying that the overall picture for Johannesburg is that “by and large the city has done exceptionally well in creating a high quality environment within its urban setting, managing increasing population growth and a degree of unpredictable environmental impacts to ensure a good quality of life for residents”.

Hedrick-Wong cautions, however, that this unpredictability means the city should not become complacent.

The assessment took three dimensions into consideration: environmental indicators that are largely government controlled; environmental indicators that are affected by climate change and indirectly government controlled; and indicators of “environmental risks”.

Dimension 1
Water potability, water availability, the sewage system, waste removal, air quality, and infectious diseases are the conditions taken into consideration in Dimension 1. This was considered the most important ranking. Joburg is ranked sixth on this dimension.

Cities that rank lowest in environmental quality suffer from very high levels of air pollution, particularly emissions from vehicles, poor waste and sewage removal and coverage, and high instances of infectious diseases. Cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Jakarta and Beijing score badly on potability. In Beirut’s case, degraded environmental services are caused by political turbulence.

Dimension 2
Indicators in this dimension are not directly considered to be under government control and are largely subject to the impact from climate change. These include the rise of sea level, water scarcity due to drought, severe storms, and fires. Joburg ranks fourth in dimension 2.

“The impact of climate change is likely to be especially marked in Bangkok, Jakarta, Shanghai and Sydney due to flooding from a rise in sea level; they may be less marked in Singapore, Tokyo and Melbourne where adaptive strategies may be easier to implement,” the report states.

Dimension 3
Indicators here are those considered to be “highly unpredictable”, with an immediate impact on the environment of the cities. They include earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions.

Johannesburg ranks the second lowest in terms of risk of these factors influencing the city and its residents.

Richer cities, with more disposable income and better educated people to manage the city, are likely to score higher. This also applies to “emerging” cities like Johannesburg, Seoul and Kuala Lumpur, says the report.

It would appear that not having been built on a major river or positioned as a port city has placed Joburg in an advantageous position. Often, large industries dump their waste into rivers or the sea, making these cities vulnerable to the effects of that pollution.

Joburg is also not vulnerable to natural events like hurricanes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

Hedrick-Wong said that Joburg’s “overall ranking of second place reflects the city’s geographic location which is well protected from most adverse environmental factors that are either outside of the government’s control or highly unpredictable, with one notable exception – drought”.

Source: City of Johannesburg