The cities of emerging countries, like the metropolises of the OECD countries before them, are facing this paradox: the faster the economic development the more the car becomes essential for the inhabitants’ mobility, and the less it is mobile, slowed by the influx of vehicles and the subsequent congestion of the roads. Thus the city of Beijing suffered the traffic jam of the century when a 120 km tailback lasted for 10 days during which the cars only advanced 15 km daily.
Beyond the anecdotal, IBM drew up a list of the world’s most congested cities. In 20 major metropolises the drivers were asked to evaluate the "painfulness" of their daily commutes according to 10 criteria: length of trip and traffic jams, price of fuel, stress, impact on work… The top of the table is occupied by the metropolises from emerging countries.
Commuter pain index
100 = the most onerous
Source: IBM Global Commuter Pain Study, 2010
This congestion is typical of a rapid phase of broad-based growth and can represent a serious threat to the country’s development. The impact is twofold:
In the IBM study 29 % of the respondents believed that traffic problems negatively affected their performance at work. This figure was 84 % in Beijing, 62 % in New Delhi and 56 % in Mexico City. Similarly 87 % of the respondents said that during the last three years they had been stuck at least once in a traffic jam with on average a delay of an hour. In Moscow this average delay rises to two and a half hours. And in Beijing 69 % said that at least once in the last three years they had been obliged to turn back and give up trying to get into work because of the extent of the gridlock.
The Aphakom study is without doubt one of the largest studies ever undertaken on the impact of air pollution, especially that caused by cars, on public health. The study was conducted over three years by 65 scientists in 25 cities of 12 European countries. The main finding of the study, which was published in 2011, was that if the average annual level of fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) was reduced to the threshold levels recommended by WHO (10 micrograms per cubic meter), people over the age of 30 could add several months to their life expectancy: 3.6 months for the inhabitants of Toulouse and up to 22 months for the citizens of Bucharest. For the economies of the countries concerned the overall benefits (fall in health costs, absenteeism...) could be as high as 31.5 billion euro. Exceeding these thresholds could cause 19,000 deaths annually in the cities surveyed.
In emerging countries, atmospheric pollution far exceeds current proportions. In 2011, WHO published a study surveying the concentration of fine particles in the air (PM10), in 1,100 cities in 91 different countries. The WHO’s recommended threshold for particles is 20 micrograms per cubic meter. For all the 1,100 cities surveyed, the average concentration rose to 71 micrograms that is 3.5 times the recommended level. And in certain cities of emerging countries, it exceeds 100 micrograms: for example Beijing (120 micrograms), Kuwait City (123), Cairo (138), Mumbai (132), Dakar (145), Riyad (Saudi Arabia, 157), Karachi (193), New Delhi (198), Oulan Bator (capital of Mongolia, 279) or even Ahwaz, in Iran (372).