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Youth in urban sustainable development

Youth in urban sustainable development

Youth in urban sustainable development

By: UN Youth Flash. Vol. 7. No. 11, November 2010

Today, half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a number expected to increase to sixty percent in the next two decades. The trend of
urbanization is especially profound in developing countries where, over
the past two decades, urban area populations have been increasing by
almost 193,000 people per week. Young people represent a major part of
the increase. Projections from the UN Human Settlement Programme (UN
HABITAT) show that by the year 2030, a total of sixty percent of those
living in urban areas of the developing world will be young people under
the age of 18.

Cities play an important role when it comes to economic and social development in countries around the world. They are the engine for regional and
global development and economic growth, and they provide new employment
and social development opportunities. If a city is efficient and has a
strong urban economy, it may lead to a more sustainable settlement,
which in turn can help improve infrastructure, health, education and
promote poverty reduction.

On the other hand, rapid urbanization also imposes major development challenges, some of which include: challenges associated with climate
change, due to an urban dependence on fossil fuel and an increase of
harmful waste and pollution; a lack of adequate housing and employment
opportunities to meet increased demand; a lack of efficient sanitation
facilities to handle the rapidly increased population. If left
unresolved, these challenges lead to large populations living in
cramped, unsanitary living conditions or slums, being exposed to the
filth and disease that go along with pollution and lack of waste
management. Many of these people will also experience a difficult time
finding work.

Young people are among the most susceptible to these challenges. Many lack the working skills and experience that older workers possess, not to
mention the financial resources necessary to access the opportunities
that urbanization can bring. In developing countries in particular,
institutions dealing with public utilities, land ownership and labour
markets, are many times weak and dysfunctional, resulting in skewed
benefits responding to private interests rather than public interests.
This leads to a situation where youth, especially young women, are often
times left vulnerable, lacking access to the formal labour market.
Young people living in slum areas are more likely to work in the
informal sector than those not living in slums. By implication, this
means that they will continue to remain on the outskirts of society,
trapped in low-income jobs and poverty. This situation becomes even more
alarming when learning that roughly 85 percent of employment
opportunities globally today are created within the informal economy.

Urbanization can also foster the conditions for the emergence of new illegal markets, such as those in narcotics, trafficking etc. These markets pose
an increased risk to young people who are already vulnerable as a
result of experiencing widespread poverty, unemployment and

The need to focus more on young people in sustainable urban development planning is crucial if we are to reach the Millennium Development Goals
and eradicate poverty and hunger. Since young people under the age of 18
years old will represent sixty percent of the people living in urban
areas by 2030, targeted interventions and policies toward their
situation are needed, taking into account a sustainable approach.

However, it is important to keep in mind that young people should not be viewed only as recipients of resources, but also as important actors when it
comes to promoting and tackling the challenges of sustainable urban
development. Their contributions in society can be a positive force in
creating sustainable cities, making young people important assets in the
development of sustainable policies in urban areas. Young people all
over the world are undertaking action to limit the negative effects of
unsustainable urbanization through involvement in various projects,
organizations and the positive activities they carry out in their every
day lives. One such inspirational young person is Dickson Baseke from

Youth fighting pollution in slums in Uganda

Dickson Baseke, from Uganda, is aged 23 and, while having recently completed his Bachelor Degree in Technology, has also been a source of inspiration
in his local community. Having grown up in slum conditions in his
native Uganda, he was motivated to do something more to help improve the
conditions of slum life, such as sickness and disease, inadequate
sanitation, crime and youth unemployment.

One incident in the slum left a particularly strong impression on Dickson. The death of man from diarrhoea, a preventable illness, as a result of
not being able to afford to seek medical attention, meant he left behind
a widow and three children. The man had died in extreme pain lying on
the side of the street, with passers-by eventually hovering over his
body. Touched by the incident and realising it was a direct result of a
lack of sanitation and poor waste management within the slum, Dickson
turned to the British Council, Global Changemakers’ team, and
established the Young People Against Pollution Project (YPAP).

YPAP aims to fight pollution, ensure good sanitation and promote the adoption of good waste management practices in and around Uganda.
Dickson explains that if a community does not have access to adequate
health care, then it becomes even more necessary to prevent the causes
and conditions that lead to poor health – and this is the premise of
YPAP. At its core are young people themselves – acting as multipliers of

The 12 month project, which runs across 18 schools in the Kampala region, aims to mobilize young people to change practices in relation to
pollution and waste management. Through education, the project helps
young people better understand the links between health, sanitation and
pollution and how they can bring about change. In utilising young
people’s various skills and abilities, Dickson underscores the crucial
role young people play in helping provide solutions to some of the
community’s biggest challenges.

Inspired by the words of Helen Keller, ‘I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something’, Dickson’s work
highlights the role young people can have in bringing about change.

Additional Info about UN Youth Flash:
This update is prepared with input from UN offices, agencies, funds and programmes as
well as with contributions from youth organizations around the world. UN
Youth Flash can also be read on-line at:

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