Urbanisation is occurring at a dramatic pace worldwide. As the Habitat III Conference draws to a close this week in Quito, Ecuador, Natalie Molino and Sudhvir Singh explore how the New Urban Agenda can be an opportunity to re-imagine a model of sustainable urban development that nourishes people and the planet.
Health and the New Urban Agenda
This week, the topic of cities will be in the global spotlight at the Habitat III conference, in Quito, Ecuador. This event will result in the finalisation of the New Urban Agenda – a policy document that will guide urban development across the globe for the next two decades.
By 2050, the global population is projected to reach between 9-10 billion. An estimated 66% of this population will be living in cities, with 90% of this growth-taking place in low and middle-income countries. This large population concentration can create a bottleneck of health problems- or it can foster innovative policies to promote healthier environments.
Urban health issues such as air pollution, sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets are major global threats to development. Yet, if smart and integrated urban policies are adopted, direct improvements can be made to reduce the burden of ill-health and climate change. The global health community thus needs to ensure the New Urban Agenda is implemented in a way that grasps these beneficial opportunities.
Tackling one of our greatest urban health challenges
One of our greatest health challenges is ensuring a safe, affordable, nutritious and sustainable diet to the urban population.
Today, nearly 2 billion people globally, including 42 million children under the age of five, are overweight and obese, whilst at the same time; almost 795 million do not have enough to eat. Concurrently, diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease are on the rise in every country.
The increasing availability of cheap processed foods that are rich in salt, sugar and fat; and a lack of access to affordable fruit and vegetables increases the risk of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Such ‘food deserts’ tend to be concentrated in areas of material deprivation and in informal settlements. Urban planning and effective zoning can support local food businesses and facilitate the production, storage, transport and marketing of fresh and healthy produce to consumers. A position paper proposed by GAIN and supported by other groups outlines the opportunities to prioritise urban food security in the Habitat process.
EAT-C40 Food Systems Network
While the New Urban Agenda commits to ensuring a framework for equitable and affordable access to safe and nutritious food for all, it also values the already established pioneering work of local governments to implement fast-paced and scalable solutions. One such example is the development of a global network of local governments to improve health and mitigate climate change through urban food systems. The EAT Foundation, in collaboration with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which connects more than 80 of the world’s greatest cities, have developed the EAT-C40 Urban Food Systems Network.
The Food Systems Network will actively contribute to the implementation of the New Urban Agenda by connecting progressive cities around the planet to exchange ideas, co-design projects and hold each other accountable to implementing food-focused solutions. The Network follows the successful C40 system of climate mitigation networks, with EAT providing complementary public health and food systems expertise. Over 27 cities across the globe, from Wuhan, China to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and New York, USA have committed to the Network and are implementing innovative urban food policies that promote population health.
One such example is in Curitiba, Brazil. Worldwide 2.6 million deaths a year are attributable to insufficient fruit and vegetable intake. Curitiba has established the “Nossa Feria” program, which sets up food markets that rotate throughout different neighbourhoods on a weekly basis, prioritising lower income areas. The markets offer a mix of fresh and local produce at 40% below the average retail price. This not only promotes good health, but also lowers greenhouse gas emissions, as diets rich in plant-based foods often have lower sustainability profiles. With the municipality acting as the ‘middle man’, the programme also provides local produce farmers with a consistent and stable source of income.
Other urban food policies that Network cities have adopted, which can be scaled globally, include innovations with the public procurement of healthy school meals, regulation of junk food advertising and availability, food education programmes, and the promotion of urban agriculture and community gardens.
Our future, our cities
Habitat III is one of the first major UN conferences since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, an agenda that identified health, climate change and urbanisation as key priorities.
The New Urban Agenda must now turn the policy dial further; to ensure that health, food security and nutrition are placed at the centre of urban and territorial sustainability.
Effective city planning and urban design policies can be used to enhance the health of our cities . Urban food policies are an excellent example of multi-sector engagement that can achieve win-win benefits for both population health and the environment. Cities can and must to be the catalysts for the urgent shifts required to ensure the achievement of sustainable development.
Natalie Molino is the Policy Projects Coordinator at the EAT Foundation. She is passionate about non-communicable disease prevention, food and nutrition security, climate change mitigation and community engagement. Her work currently focuses on bringing together public health and environmental sustainability expertise to transform and design global food system solutions. She holds a Bachelor of Biomedicine and a Masters of Public Health from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked for the Obesity Policy Coalition at the Cancer Council Victoria and the global social movement NCDFREE.
Dr Sudhvir Singh is the Policy Director of the EAT Foundation, which brings public health and environmental sustainability expertise together to design global food system solutions. Sudhvir leads EAT’s urban programme. He has a background in Internal Medicine and has successfully completed the written and clinical examinations of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians as well as completing postgraduate studies in Environmental Health. Sudhvir spent several years leading the organisation ‘Generation Zero’, winning campaigns for better transport, urban design & climate change policy, and was a member of the New Zealand government delegation to Rio+20.