Although the inextricable relationship between ecology and society has long been understood (Yearly, 1991; Martell, 1994; Bruntland, 1997), the link between social policy and the environment in the industrialised countries, referred to here as ‘the North’, has only been drawn quite recently (Hill, 1993; Huby, 1998). That the environment is increasingly understood as a social policy issue derives in part from growing concern with the global commons (Yearly, 1996; Goldman, 1998), and in part from changes in social policy itself, related to the valuing of integrated approaches and the promotion of intersectoral partnerships. It is in this context and alongside a convergence of paradigmatic approaches to social development internationally, that greater attention is being paid to lessons from late developing countries. This chapter engages with these issues through a discussion of the urban environment and, more specifically, urban water supply and sanitation in cities of the developing world, referred to here as ‘the South’. We argue that social wellbeing is inextricably linked to secure access to an adequate and safe water supply, along with appropriate and affordable sanitation. As such, basic urban services constitute a critical area of concern for social policy in late developing countries. Through a case study of Johannesburg we consider the enormous challenges for urban governance that are presented by the dual requirement of addressing the pressing service needs of burgeoning numbers of historically disadvantaged urban dwellers, without compromising the standards of services and supply to better-off rate paying citizens. This chapter concludes by suggesting that while a policy focus on basic services might address urban poverty and indeed be environmentally sound, issues of inequality are not addressed.
Environmental health and the ‘brown agenda’
While the North has for a long time been urbanised, this is a more recent phenomenon for the South. Nevertheless, it will soon be the case that more than half the world's population will be living in urban centres. In absolute terms, by 2000 the urban population of late developing countries was more than twice the urban population of industrialised countries, and by 2025 the global urban population is expected to be five billion, almost equal to the entire world population at present (Buckley, 1996). Moreover, it is from cities and towns that the majority of people already derive their livelihoods, either directly or indirectly.