Urban Cleaning and Public health: a link to remember.

As the world bounces back from the current pandemic, and it gains a greater consciousness of the links between space, urban cleaning and health, we think it is pertinent to write a few words to ensure we don’t take for granted the sanitary urban cleaning services we have in our European cities; something that more than a billion people lack in less developed countries. Urban Sanitation consists of the the public understanding of sanitation’s four A axis (Adequacy; Accessibility; Affordability of water, sanitation facilities, and waste management; and Awareness of disease outcomes and hygiene practices). The reality is that disproportionately children and other vulnerable people living in major cities and rural areas, are still at risk for death, chronic morbid conditions and diseases associated with an unsanitary environment. Therefore we still need continued investments in sanitary technology, education, research, and practice to raise the standard of living and eradicate diarrheal diseases and unsanitary-induced mortality and morbidity.

We know that over half the world’s population now lives in cities, and by 2050 that is expected to rise to a full 70% of the human population, that is nearly 10 billion people. Increased urbanization trends is a major thread to various societal challenges, such as urban warming and climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, deterioration of mental health in urban areas, and virus pandemic threads. We can place all issues under two big umbrellas: a thread towards the environment and towards public health. Therefore, we are not only only grateful for the funding commitments of “The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation” aimed at accelerating the adoption of innovative, pro-poor sanitation technologies, in developing regions around the world, but also very appreciative of innovators, policy and research organizations, and the Municipality Urban Cleaners (MUCs) who keep our cities clean every day.

We want to encourage our local decision-makers in local governments and public bodies to, firstly, reinforce the Sanitation 4A’s Axis around the creation of urban planning practices that create social inclusion, are less demanding on resources and are more resilient. This can be achieved using nature-based solutions, innovative technologies and good practices of production, consumption and disposal to promote health, protect the environment and improve resilience to climate change and natural disasters. At the same time, there should be a strong investment in people’s vocational education training at work, and thirdly, to invest in the psychoeducation of citizens in promoting hygienic and healthy behaviors. This holistic action is required from individuals and communities in order to gain strong public commitment, policy support, social acceptance, and systemic behavioral changing that will reduce environmental and public health strains.

“Investments in health-based urban and territorial planning secure long-term health and well-being legacies for a growing proportion of humans.”

Dr. Nathalie Roebbel, WHO Unit Head of Air Quality and Health

For further reading we recommend the following reports:

  1. Integrating health in urban and territorial planning: sourcebook – UN-HABITAT
  2. Guidelines for Urban Hygiene Promotion – Institute of Water and Sanitation Development