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Problems That City Causes for People and Environment


Though most of the people prefer to live in the cities, there are many problems associated with life in the cities. Although these problems vary from one city to another, nonetheless, most of them are common and are detrimental to the lives of the people living in such cities. Mostly, these problems are caused by the people themselves but a certain extent, the government or the city council is to blame for the persistence of these problems. The influx of people in the cities could be more than what the city can contain. If the city cannot contain these people, then many things might go amiss.

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What are these problems then that the problems that the city causes for people and the environment.

When an environment is affected, men are also directly affected because they entirely depend on environment for survival. For purposes of the research paper at hand, an environment can be defined as all what is around human beings or all what surrounds human beings. Man interacts with the environment daily. He therefore affects and is affected by the environment daily. Most of the times man affects the environment and then the environments hits back at him. City environmental problems may include the health problems that may culminate from lack of enough sanitation and clean household water (4). It may also include indoor pollution.

This category can be referred to as localized health problems. Others include poor waste management, river, lakes and coastal area pollution, air pollution.

These are in the category of regional city environmental problems. The other category is extra urban problems culminating from urban or city activities. These may include emissions of green house gasses and ecological destruction. We can also include in the list the emission of acid gases and depletion of resources within the city suburbs. These problems shall be discussed in depth in the following paragraphs.

Air pollution in the city

Air pollution in the city has the most dangerous effect on the inhabitants of such a city and the environment as well. Since most of the industries are located in the cities, there are a lot of industrial gas emissions within the city. People breathe in these gases and they cause a lot of problems to their lives. When inhaled, these gases when inhaled may cause lung cancer and other related respiratory diseases. Air pollution may also be caused by congestion of people in the city. People breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide (1). Due to congestion, there is competition for fresh air and excessive exhalation of carbon dioxide. This may also cause respiratory diseases. Motor cars are also many in the city and they emit carbon monoxide to the environment. These gases are very dangerous and are causing a lot of diseases to people.

America for instance is living under the danger of smog that is killing many people due to respiratory diseases. Smog is formed when mist in the air come in to contact with smoke. This is not avoidable where there are industries emitting gases to the environment daily. There is also indoor air pollution caused by cooking fires. Most of the stoves that people use for cooking in the house emit dangerous gases (6). Since most of the city rooms are very congested, these gases accumulate within residential buildings and the inhabitants inhales them. Air pollution may also be caused by the smoke from garbage burning especially where there is no regular garbage collection. People opt to burn garbage for lack of another mean of disposal.

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Global warming and its effects

There has been a constant fluctuation of the global climate throughout time. Climate has changed from the ice age to the long periods of warmth that are currently being experienced in a majority of the world cities. The earth’s temperatures have been rising over time and the globe is getting warmer by the day, a condition referred to as global warming.

Man has for long depended on fossil fuels as a source of energy. Such fossil fuels as coal and oil produce green house gasses when burnt. The most common one being carbon dioxide. When these gasses are emitted in to the atmosphere, they block heat from the earth’s surface from escaping into the space. The atmosphere is heated from the ground as the sun rays hit the ground and are reflected into the atmosphere. This heat naturally escapes into the space. When this heat is trapped into the atmosphere, global warming happens. The situation worsens when man’s activities destroy forests (1). Trees are useful in the recycling of carbon dioxide into oxygen. With the increasing deforestation, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also increases and this increases global warming. The effects of global warming are many and detrimental to human lives. For instance, it affects the distribution of plants and animals. This is because different animals and plants are best adapted to different kinds of weathers. Due to global warming, the lives of animals and plants have been affected. Animals move from one place to another to look for a weather they are adapted to. Other species have become extinct. The distribution of plants has also changed due to change of weather. The blooming pattern of plants and flowers has also been affected. For example, some varieties of plants now bloom earlier than was the case previously.

The growing seasons for plants have also become lengthy. Food stuffs take long to grow than before. All these effects affect human beings.

Light pollution

Light pollution happens where there is excess light at night. Research has shown that light pollution is one of the causes of breast cancer to women. This is rarely noticed. There are so many cases of women contracting breast cancer in urban areas. The cases are very minimal in the rural areas. Most of there cases have traces of origin in light pollution.

Noise pollution

This happens when there is excess noise in the environment. For instance, in the airport there is usually excess noise. Excess noise may cause serious problems like coronary heart diseases or hearing loss. Other diseases may include stroke and high blood pressure. Some industry may also cause noise pollution. Excess hooting by motor vehicles also cause noise pollution.

The other effects of noise pollution include effect on human health. Noise pollution can cause several health problems like deafness, heart diseases, ulcers, and heart burn, amongst a host of other problems. The other effect of noise is speech interruption and interference. Communication becomes hard when there is a lot of noise. One is unable to deliver the message effectively. Noise also makes one’s listening skills less effective and will therefore not be able to listen effectively. There is also sleep interference where noise wakes people from their sleep. This makes them unable to sleep well and very tired the next day and consequently, their productivity declines. Noise also affects one’s work performance because it affects their concentration and accuracy. This reduces their performance at work.

Cross border pollution

This is the spillover of pollution of one country to another. In this case a neighboring country may also be affected by pollution in another country. To a large extent, it is extremely difficult to control air pollution from reaching the neighboring countries. At the moment, this is a very big issue around the globe. Individuals of a different country suffer from the effects of pollution caused by another country.

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Soil or land pollution

This is yet another sensitive form of pollution. When there is a lot of garbage on the land, the soil will be polluted. This also happens when industrial wastes are thrown into the soil. When the soil is polluted with toxic substances, it can cause a lot of diseases to human beings. For example, when food comes into contact with the soil, there is the likelihood of transmitting toxic substances from the soil into the food. Once consumed, the food could cause serious health complications to individuals. Soil pollution also affects the agricultural production. For example, some soil pollutants are very toxic and they affect the lives of plants. With the increased soil pollution, the level of agricultural production has decreased drastically. The soil is no longer productive. The soil has become very acidic with the increased use of fertilizers Land pollution should be distinguished from soil pollution. There is the need to distinguish between land pollution and soil pollution. In this case, land pollution is a term used in reference to the pollution of the surface of the planet. Land pollution is caused by a number of human activities. To start with, urbanization is a leading cause of land pollution. There has been an increase in the rate of urbanization across the globe in recent years.

Consequently, forest land has been used for construction. Increased construction has caused high destruction to forests and loss of forest land due to high demand for timber. There has also been an increase in demand for water and as a result, dams and reservoirs are built leading to loss of forest land. With the growth rate of the population around the world on the increase, there is has been a corresponding increase in demand for food and hence agricultural land. More land for agriculture is needed, leading to the clearing of forest cover to make room for this activity. There is also a high demand for dumping sites. This means that more and more land is being wasted as dumping site. This is yet another form of land pollution.

Most of the agricultural activities greatly contributed to land pollution. For instance, such agricultural chemicals as pesticides and fungicides pollute the land when they are washed in to the land (1). There are also industrial activities that pollute the land like open cast mining. This form of mining leave the land with huge holes dug on the ground and also huge heaps of mining waste. Some of these mining wastes contain poisonous substances. These substances also pollute the soil. Mostly, the sources of land and soil pollution are metal production factories, chemical plants, and nuclear waste and disposal activity, among others.

The effects of land pollution include destruction of vegetation, acid rain formation which may kill plants and crops. Pesticides can also kill crops and vegetation and even animals. Especially the pesticides used to kill weed and insects.

Water pollution

Water pollution occurs when the water is contaminated by for example, toxic substances that are thrown into the water bodies. In the cities, water is said to be polluted or contaminated when it comes into contact with sewage, industrial wastes or any other contaminant that are thrown in to the water bodies. Water used in the cities is likely to be contaminated when the water pipes come into contact with sewage pipes. If the pipes are leaking, then there is the possibility of sewage getting into water. This is a very dangerous situation because it is hardly noticed. Due to congestion in the cities, water lines and the sewage lines are often closely laid, further increasing the chance of cross contamination. Most of the garbage and industrial wastes in the cities are discharged into the lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. All these wastes are potential sources of pollution to water bodies in the city.

Agricultural run off or water erosion that drains soil with agricultural chemicals into the river are another source of water pollution. Effects of water pollution are many in comparison with those due to the highly polluted parts of the environment (4). This is because water is the most used resource in the environment. Due to the widespread use of water, its pollution affects all living things; plants and animals. To start with, the aquatic life is at stake when water is polluted. Livers, lake, oceans and other water bodies support the lives for many living organisms. They also support the aquatic ecosystems. When industrial wastes and other pollutants are discharged in to the water bodies, the lives of the organisms are destroyed. This is due to lack of fresh air and feeding on intoxicated food. Since aquatic ecosystems also provide food for human beings like fish, human beings are also affected when water is polluted. Some communities depend on fishing as their only economic activity. When water bodies are polluted, their source of income is also affected.

High cost of traveling

Due to congestion in the cities, there is always traffic congestion on the roads. This also causes the public vehicles to increase the charges for commuting from one place to another. This causes trouble to low income earners because they are the users of the public vehicles for they do not own cars (4). The government has increases the fuel cost in order to discourage people from buying cars. This is done in the name of reducing the traffic congestion and the effect that it causes to the environment. The health hazard caused by the city environment can be summarized as in the table below:

SUMMARY: Range of city-related environmental hazards by scale and type
(This list of examples is not intended to be comprehensive)
Within house and its plot Biological pathogens Water-borne, water-washed (or water-scarce), airborne, food-borne, vector-borne, including some water-related vectors (e.g. Aides mosquitoes breeding in water containers where households lack reliable piped supplied).
Chemical pollutants Indoor air pollution from fires, stoves or heaters. Accidental poisoning from household chemicals. Occupational exposure for home workers.
Physical hazards Household accidents – burns and scalds, cuts, falls. Physical hazards from home-based economic activities. Inadequate protection from rain, extreme temperatures.
Neighborhood Biological pathogens Pathogens in waste water, solid waste (if not removed from the site), local water bodies. Disease vectors, e.g. malaria-spreading Anopheles mosquitoes breeding in standing water or filariasis-spreading Culex mosquitoes breeding in blocked drains, latrines or septic tanks.
Chemical pollutants Ambient air pollution from fires, stoves….; also perhaps from burning garbage if there is no regular garbage collection service. Air and water pollution and wastes from ‘cottage’ industries and from motor vehicles.
Physical hazards Site-related hazards, e.g. housing on slopes with risks of landslides; sites regularly flooded, sites at risk from earthquakes.
Workplace Biological pathogens Overcrowding/poor ventilation aids transmission of infectious diseases.
Chemical pollutants Toxic chemicals, dust……
Physical hazards Dangerous machinery, noise…..
City (or municipality within larger city) Biological pathogens Pathogens in the open water bodies (often from sewerage); also at municipal dumps; contaminated water in piped system.
Chemical pollutants Ambient air pollution (mostly from industry and motor vehicles; motor vehicles’ role generally growing); water pollution; hazardous wastes.
Physical hazards Traffic hazards. Violence. ‘Natural’ disasters and their ‘unnaturally large’ impact because of inadequate attention to prevention and mitigation.
Citizens’ access to land for housing Important influence on housing quality directly and indirectly (e.g. through insecure tenure discouraging households investing in improved housing, and discouraging water, electricity and other utilities from serving them).
Heat island effect and thermal inversions Raised temperatures a health risk, especially for vulnerable groups (e.g. elderly, very young). Air pollutants may become trapped, increasing their concentration and the length of people’s exposure to them.
City-region (or city periphery) Resource degradation Soil erosion from poor watershed management or land development or clearance; deforestation; water pollution; ecological damage from acid precipitation and ozone plumes; loss of biodiversity.
Land or water pollution from waste dumping Pollution of land from dumping of conventional household, industrial and commercial solid wastes and toxic/hazardous wastes. Leaching of toxic chemicals from waste dumps into water. Contaminated industrial sites. Pollution of surface water and groundwater from sewage and surface runoff.
Pre-emption or loss of resources Fresh water for city pre-empting its use for agriculture; expansion of paved area over good quality agricultural land.
Links between city and global issues Non-renewable resource use Fossil fuel use; use of other mineral resources; loss of biodiversity; loss of non-renewable resources in urban waste streams.
Non-renewable sink use Persistent chemicals in urban waste streams; greenhouse gas emissions, stratospheric ozone depleting chemicals.
Overuse of ‘finite’ renewable Resources Scale of consumption that is incompatible with global limits for soil, forests, freshwater….
SOURCE: Satterthwaite, David (1999), The Links between Poverty and the Environment in Urban Areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Commission (EC), New York.

From the above table, it is clear how the city activities expose people to many diseases. For instance, there are those biological pathogens that are brought up by the conditions within the house and its compound. A disease like malaria that is claiming many lives in the world today is water borne. Due to the lack of proper drainage within the city, there is a lot of stagnant water around the houses where these mosquitoes breed. Sometimes there are high heaps of garbage due to poor disposal. This is also a favorable environment for parasite breeding. These conditions have caused a lot of diseases. Malaria has become a pandemic in most part of the world. It is claiming millions of lives every year.

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There are also Chemical pollutants within the house that include the indoor pollution caused by the stove fires and heaters. These greatly affect the lives of people and can cause many heats diseases. There are also physical hazards within the house that which may include burns and scalds. These also cause harm to human bodies.


Cities cause a lot of problems to people living within and without. The environment is also highly affected by the city activities. Most industries are located in the cities and they are the main cause of environmental problems. This is because of the waster they discharge to the environment. Governments should address the issue of environment caused by the cities because the problem is worsening by the day. Moving the industries to local areas cannot solve the problem they cause to the environment because they will cause the same problem in the rural areas. The problem that needs urgent attention is how to reduce the effects of the city activities to people and the environment. For instance the means of disposal of industrial wastes should be worked out to ensure that they do not affect the environment. The issue of cross boarder pollution should also be addressed because it can cause chaos between countries. A country cannot reduce cross boarder pollution without reducing the level of pollution within its boarders Human beings are the cause of the environmental problems that affect them. They are therefore the only people that can solve the problem of cities to the environment.


Hardoy, J, Mitlin, D & Satterthwaite, D, Environmental Problems in an Urbanizing World: Finding Solutions for Cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Earthcan Publications, London, 2001.

Henderson, V, ‘Urbanization in developing countries’, The World Bank Research Observer, vol. 17, no. 1, 2002, pp. 89-112.

Leitmann, J, Sustaining Cities: Environmental Planning and Management in Urban Design, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1999.

Pearce, D & Jeremy, W, World without End: Economics, Environment and Sustainable Development. Oxford University Press, New York, 1995.

Pugh, C, Sustainability: the Environment and Urbanization, London. Earths can Publications, London, 1996.

Satterthwaite, D, The Links between Poverty and the Environment In Urban Areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Commission (EC), New York, 1999.

Skitt, J, 1001 Terms in Solid Waste Management, international Solid Waste Association, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1999.

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