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Environmental technology targets megacities

Santiago Mejia Dugand

Can Swedish environmental technology be useful in a mega city like Mexico City, a city grappling with huge environmental problems? How, then would this work? Santiago Mejia Dugand, a graduate student in environmental technology and management at Linköping University, is addressing some of these issues.

Mexico City and other megacities are huge markets for the export of Swedish environmental technology. Mexico is also one of the largest and most developed economies in Latin America so establishing business there opens door to both North and South America and the Caribbean islands.

In a multi-million-population city like Mexico City rampant environmental problems thrive such as water shortages, traffic jams, poor air and gigantic mountains of rubbish. In excess of 12,500 tonnes of waste per day is produced inside the city itself, yet it is difficult to implement self-evident functioning environmental technology that could solve at least part of the problem.

Dugand explains, “Naturally there is a commercial aspect to this, however my focus is about how environmental technology can help solve the problem and why it is not used where it is really needed.”

He has visited Mexico City several times such as last November in conjunction with a delegation led by Ewa Björling, Minister for Foreign Trade for Sweden. Dugand has conducted numerous interviews and has studied, on site, the effects of the enormous environmental problems.

The idea was that he would visit Cairo, but current political unrest has so far made the journey impossible.

“Both cities share many similarities, they are home to around 20 million inhabitants and major traffic and waste problems. The countries are both built on oil industries and share similar climatic conditions, he says.

Climatic conditions are important to the studies. In Sweden burning waste and utilising the heat is unnecessary there as further sources of heating are simply not required. Other techniques to treat the waste are required. Furthermore biofuels are not as viable for an oil-producing nation.

There are also other problems related to the use of the otherwise overcrowded landfills as a resource. In Mexico City, many people depend on these landfills for their livelihood. Dugand elaborates,

“They possess large groups of unofficial recyclers, so removing those landfills would create major social problems.

Mexico City is also built on an old seabed and the entire city is now easing slowly into the mire. Excessive extraction of groundwater causes the city to recede even more and today water is pumped from surrounding plains to alleviate water shortages in the megacity.

“This leads to new conflicts since the water is needed for agriculture, nor is the extracted water used particularly effective, he says.

In addition those problems mentioned the city’s traffic problems are about to burst. However here, the emergence of a solution is at hand, which Dugand is studying further:
Bus Rapid TransferMexico City has managed to introduce something that, by using a model taken from the multi-million populated Colombian city of Bogota, is now spreading across the world. A system called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which basically acts as an above ground-subway. The buses have their own lanes in the middle of the wide streets, which means that they need only stop at bus stops and major intersections.

“The rapid bus service has had major social impacts. People enter the city in a different way and can move around more freely. Crime has fallen, more dare to go out, more children can come to schools and more adults can travel home from work to help their children with their homework. Consumption increases and levels of education rise,” claims Dugand.

However despite the good results the BRT project is encumbered by major problems. That which everyone saw as beneficial for Bogota is about to fail in Mexico City. City residents who have their own cars are also those with the most money and those that support the politicians' campaign. This group of course does not take kindly to the buses right of way, while the cars are afforded less and less space.

“Stable political leadership is required to drive this type of change. In terms of a 20-year perspective in the comparatively politically stable Europe, the perspective in Mexico is rather months or sometimes even days.

Dugand will now summarize his conclusions in a scientific article, “Sustainable Urban Transformation”, which will provide answers to what it is that makes things happen and what conclusions can be drawn from it for the future.

“We will try to provide answers to manifest problems, which should be solved, and even highlight the more latent problems and assess how they are to be handled. Environmental and social issues are closely linked,” he notes.

Mexico City is the world's largest cities with 21 million inhabitants if you include the city suburbs. Within the city walls there are just under 9 million people.

Read more about the research at the Department of Environmental Technology and Management

Minister for Foreign Trade for Sweden, Ewa Björling visited Mexico in November 2011 to give impetus to Swedish export companies, including environmental technology and cleantech.

Monica Westman Svenselius Thu Jan 05 09:01:00 CET 2012

LiU magazine

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