Twenty years ago, the Rio Declaration pushed forth the ideas of sustainability and equity. Of course, in India, and in many other parts of the world where the poor or where local people were key to environmental protection, these issues had already been raised. But in 1992, equity as an environmental issue was accepted by the United Nations. Now, a few weeks before the Rio +20 summit, the question about equity stares us in the face.
Particularly if, like me, you are in Rio. Nothing pushes the issue more than the Favelas, or slums, so to say. Less than 10% of Rio's population lives in Favelas, but often without basic environmental services or access to adequate energy. The infrastructure is often what they provide to and by themselves. A contentious policy, the UPP, has begun entering the favelas, clearing them of drug-lords and undertaking what can be sardonically described as benign policing, which includes such services as waste handling. But we know that nothing works better than recognising a slum and participatively improving its access to clean water, sewage disposal and other facilities, so anyone living in one of these can also enjoy at least the basic degree of a healthy environment. This is clearly the critical urban challenge of a country which hosted the world's most important green conference and which is rapidly developing.
The city of Rio is surprisingly green, set amidst Atlantic rain forested hills, followed by intense urban sprawl and high rises, and then, the beach and the ocean. The fantastic Tijuca protected forest, the biggest urban forest in the world, is un-encroached and fiercely safeguarded.
Ironically, crime-something that lives in most corners of Rio-is an important reason why many parts of the forest are unvisited, leaving the area tranquil for birds. Contrast this with Delhi's Ridge, where substantial patches have been chewed up for petrol pumps, schools and even government.
Despite the land prices and being surrounded by the ocean, Rio's builders have not eaten up the forests. Delhi's planners must learn from them about valuing the greens.