The need for a multisectoral strategy to address these problems is generally recognised. Most research, however, continues to proceed along disciplinary lines. An environmental perspective, with its inherently transdisciplinary nature, is the appropriate approach. Moreover, it is important that the local environmental problems which currently plague the poor be addressed with due regard for the broader environmental context. As the experience of many middle-income megacities indicates, economic expansion and rapid urbanization can create a host of new environmental problems, without necessarily resolving those typically associated with poverty.

In 1991, SEI, working in collaboration with local research institutions, initiated a scoping study of household environmental problems in Accra, Jakarta and Sao Paulo. Drawing upon both local and international expertise, a comparable approach was developed and applied in each of these cities. Surveys of 1,000 households were undertaken in each city, along with physical testing in subsamples of about 200. The study is both trans-disciplinary and action-oriented. The empirical results range from indicators of faecal contamination in drinking water, to people’s perceptions of what should be done by whom to improve the situation. The analysis examines the physical severity of the problems, and also the institutional context from which practical solutions must emerge.

This report summarizes the results of the Accra case study. It is hoped that the report will be of interest not only within Accra, but also to other researchers and policy-makers concerned with urban environmental issues. Sao Paulo and Jakarta are both megacities, renowned as the sites of severe environmental distress. Accra does not yet face the megacity problems. Yet the local environmental problems described in this report on Accra are probably a far greater burden for local inhabitants than, for example, the widely publicised ambient air pollution in Sao Paulo. Moreover, Accra is probably typical of hundreds of other medium-sized cities in this regard. This report aims to demonstrate not only that something needs to be done, but that, with better information, something can be done.