Urban Resource Millennium Assessment by Naturalists

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Project Summary

Figure 1. Study sites of IURMA

The Indian Urban Resource Millennium Assessment by Naturalists (India Urban) was carried out between 2000–04. The assessment was nested in Pune, Bangalore, and Madurai cities (Figure 1). The primary focal areas assessed were: food, fuel, water, biodiversity and health care. Fiber, culture (including human well-being), climate, and waste recycling were studied opportunistically. Stakeholders, including citizens, traders, bureaucrats, scientists, teachers, students and farmers were consulted for the assessment. Research and Action in Natural Wealth Administration (RANWA), an NGO, facilitated the India Urban assessment. Healthcare was studied by its partner, Community Enterprise Forum of India (CEFI) of Madurai, and the Sustainable Rural Transformation (SuTRA) unit of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore assessed fuel.

Assessment Approach

Literature was surveyed and stakeholder perceptions were ranked during 2000–03 to document the conditions and trends. Response options and future scenarios were sketched during 17 workshops regarding biodiversity, food, fuel, water, and health care, involving 3,000 stakeholders. These were funded by various government agencies and private donors for their business planning. Data and projections include the past 50 and future 10 years, respectively. Ecosystem product/ process and response options were assessed regarding: (1) input, (2) process, (3) output, and (4) feedback across their ‘‘life cycle.’’ Stakeholder experts broadly reviewed the inferences during personal consultations.

Condition and Trends

The concerns of citizens about urban ecosystem quality and human welfare in India are:

  • Rising air pollution that damages health, caused by growing private rather than public transport;
  • Growing electricity and gas shortage, which plagues business and households alike;
  • Growing water scarcity (despite floods), leading to conflicts amongst citizens, particularly with villagers;
  • Increased health disorders as a result of pollution and sedentary lifestyles;
  • Growing “hidden hunger” (micronutrient deficiency) among the rich and hunger amongst slums;
  • Increased waste and water pollution, causing conflicts with villages at new landfill sites etc.;
  • Significant decrease in biodiversity especially aquatic, due to pollution and habitat loss;
  • Diminished respect of nature and use of natural goods and community spirit in urban lifestyle;
  • Increased rural poverty and hunger causing increasing unmanaged urban immigration;
  • Protesting by farmers, sometimes even violently, against industrial encroachments.

Drivers of Ecosystem Change

Changes in consumption behaviour are the primary cause of degradation of ecosystem services in Urban India. Direct endogenous drivers of declining ecosystem health and human well-being include:

  • Poor town planning favouring growth of private holdings (e.g. buildings, private cars) at the expense of public resources (e.g. open spaces, public transportation) resulting in traffic congestion, pollution, floods, delays, accidents, conflicts;
  • Concomitant burgeoning of private transport, food and water, and dwindling public systems;
  • Consumerist culture of increasing consumption of packed food, gadgets, electricity and water, leading to their increasing wastage, shortage and cost.
  • Indirect exogenous drivers (mostly global/ national) include:
    • Technological— mechanization causing job displacement or substitution
    • Economic— pricing, taxes, or concessions to eco-damaging practices
    • Political— law and policy
    • Cultural (education, media, religion) is a two-way driver- both external and internal

Response Options

The response options below aim to reduce pollution and habitat degradation while generating rural employment and reverse urban immigration. They are listed according to growing complexity:

  • Teach in the schools about organic diet and traditional cuisine (for biodiversity and nutrition);
  • Tax water supply above 100 liters daily per head, and encourage rainwater harvesting;
  • Tax electricity use above 150 kWh per house monthly, generate electricity from solar and waste;
  • Promote handloom, recycled paper, and jute packing, and taxing synthetic clothes and plastics;
  • Promote public transport driven by biodiesel and ethanol produced by neighboring farmers;
  • Recycle kitchen waste and drainage to generate biogas and farm manure respectively;
  • Tax private vehicles/ gadgets to fund growth of low emission technology as incentives.


Two scenarios were developed, of which the techno-commercial scenario is driven by hi-tech amenities promoted through commercial incentives (tax cuts, market access etc.).

Techno-commercial scenario

  • Transgenic food to increase the food basket by 10% but not lower prices or hunger ;
  • Rainwater harvesting to meet 10% of water demand but piped water scarcity to grow 25%;
  • Industries to supply 25% of city electricity but at double the tariff, gas shortage to grow due to Middle-East Asian war, but solar equipment to be rare, due to less commercial operators and scope;
  • Biodiesel to comprise 5% and ethanol 10% of transport fuel, electrical cars to comprise 5% of the fleet and sky-/metro-train to take 10% of traffic load, but traffic congestion, pollution and accidents to grow 25% due to 50% increase in the vehicle density due to reduced price, easy loan etc.;
  • Tree cover and butterfly richness to grow but tree, bird or fish diversity to reduce;
  • Solid and water waste recycling to grow 25% as a business, but old buildings become a hazard;
  • Health disorders and healthcare costs to grow, family and social life to weaken and crime, violence to rise;
  • Abrupt climate change, earthquakes or volcanoes and terrorism or war elsewhere could endanger food and fuel supplies, crippling the mega-cities that cannot buy self reliance and resilience.

The techno-commercial scenario is only a more intensified version of the business as usual (BAU) scenario. It is driven to maximize pleasure but could enhance inequity, unrest, crime and violence.

Low External Input Sustainable Activities (LEISA)

The Low External Input Sustainable Activities (LEISA) scenario is driven externally by growing global fuel scarcity, higher prices and terrorism risk, and internally by rising food and water scarcity. Democracy will force government to adopt adaptive management to promote traditional wisdom, ethical trading, recycling jobs and agro-employment in cities and villages to reduce emigration.

In the LEISA scenario the following characteristics are projected:

  • Food shortage to grow 10% but people also learn to fast once a weak, for better health, and grow vegetables in rooftop gardens, and eat more grains in a seasonal and personalised diet;
  • Rainwater harvesting to meet 25% of water demand and water taxing to contain the demand;
  • Solar electricity kits fitted in 25% houses and 50% industry, to reduce demand on grid by 30%;
  • Urban waste to generate 5% of electricity needed, and organic solid waste to generate 1,000 ton organic manure to be distributed at 50% cost to farmers that protest encroachments to farmlands around the city;
  • Gas shortage met by promoting vegetable waste-based biogas, in 25% of households;
  • Biodiesel to comprise 20% and ethanol 30% of transport fuel, as the number of buses doubles, private transport reduces, and reallocation of citizens near the workplaces reduces transport demand;
  • Urban growth curtailed 10% by developing 5-6 townships at 50-60 km distance;
  • Health improved by organic diet, herbal medicines and yoga, with better family and social life;
  • Effluent treatment plants for 50% industry, 10,000 gardens of (1% households) butterfly and medicines make city colourful and healthy, and distract the children from the television and computer.

Lessons Learned

The following lessons were learned:

  1. Cities must not encroach on food, fuel and water resources of villages but secure their future as well to avoid future inequity and violence;
  2. Technology and economic growth should need prior long-term environmental and cultural impact assessment and periodic reappraisal;
  3. Science needs to be promoted as a logical thinking habit for all people. Merely blindly adopting technology and gadgets in daily life and social planning will not help.

In addition to discussion with current politicians, planners and religious leaders, whose teachings are followed by the society to a large extent, the results of the India Urban assessment will also be disseminated as children’s stories, for better results after 10-20 years.


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