The pace of urbanisation across the world has been dramatic over the past century. In 1900, there were 12 cities in the world with populations over one million. Today, there are more than 900 such cities and 35 ‘mega-cities’ with more than 10 million inhabitants (Andrew Steer, REA, 2016). Access to public transport and affordable housing along with clean air, water and energy, proper waste management, and increased human security are the key priorities for any community living in such urban environments.

It is imperative that the physical and social infrastructures in an urban ecosystem need to be modernised. The transformation of cities with digital technologies and IT based solutions enable opportunities for enhancing urban services and living. The introduction of Internet of Things (IoT) platforms in cities will improve the quality of service delivery with optimised resource utilisation (UNESCO 2021). Further, natural and cultural heritages also need to be protected from external shocks and natural disasters. All these efforts require engineers who play a key role in developing sustainable, resilient, and smart metropolitans and particularly their contribution is vital in the urban and rural development policy making.

In this context, how can engineers contribute to attain Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 – ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’, which is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The activities under SDG 11 include various sectors and themes, and have obvious engineering relevance and requirements associated with them. It is the right time for the engineering community to identify key priorities and contributions from engineering to develop sustainable cities and communities. A recent survey among engineering employers and academics by the Engineers Ireland on the extend of SDGs to be included in engineering education revealed that SDG 11 is among the top six SDGs selected by most to be covered in depth for engineers.

Global key figures related to ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ (SDG11)

Some of the relevant global key figures related to ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ provided in the United Nation statistics include (

  • Half of the world population (3.5 billion people) – lives in cities today and 5 billion people are projected to live in cities by 2030
  • 95 percent of urban expansion in the next decades will take place in developing world
  • Number of slum dwellers reached more than 1 billion in 2018 (25% of the urban population)
  • Only half of the world’s urban population had convenient access to public transport (500 m – 1 km distance) and  access to open public spaces within 400 metres walking distance along a street network (2019)
  • Air pollution caused 4.2 million premature deaths in 2016
  • Over 90% of COVID19 cases are from urban areas

SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) targets

SDG 11 sets out seven key targets and three additional targets (11.a, 11.b, and 11.c) for resource mobilisation and policy to be achieved by 2030. The ten key targets are:

11.1. Ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums

11.2. Provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons

11.3. Enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries

11.4. Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage

11.5. Significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations

11.6. Reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management

11.7. Provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities

11.a. Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning

11.b. By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels

11.c. Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials

SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) target indicators (examples)

The achievement of ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ goal is measured by the following set of key indicators:

  1. Proportion of urban population living in slums, informal settlements or inadequate housing
  2. Proportion of population that has convenient access to public transport, by sex, age and persons with disabilities
  3. Ratio of land consumption rate to population growth rate
  4. Proportion of cities with a direct participation structure of civil society in urban planning and management that operate regularly and democratically
  1. Total expenditure per capita spent on the preservation, protection and conservation of all cultural and natural heritage, by type of heritage, level of government, type of expenditure and type of private funding
  2. Number of deaths, missing persons and persons affected by disaster per 100,000 people
  3. Direct disaster economic loss in relation to global GDP, including disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services
  4. Proportion of urban solid waste regularly collected and with adequate final discharge out of total urban solid waste generated, by cities
  5. Annual mean levels of fine particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5 and PM10) in cities (population weighted)
  6. Average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use for all, by sex, age and persons with disabilities
  7. Proportion of persons victim of physical or sexual harassment, by sex, age, disability status and place of occurrence, in the previous 12 months

Detail indicator descriptions are available at

Current status of SDG 11 progression in Sri Lanka

The current status of achieving SDG 11 in Sri Lanka was reported in the recent review by the Government of Sri Lanka (SLVNR 2018). Some of the key progressions include:

  • 81% of the population live in permanent houses, 18% live in semi-permanent houses and less than 1% live in slums (2012)
  • Public transport accounts for 57% of the total passengers (47% bus transport). However, traffic congestion in urban areas, increasing private vehicle usage and road accidents continue to be key challenges and priorities for the local and national authorities to find innovative solutions. Measures such as railway electrification, Light Rail Transit System and efficient road and bus transport networks need to be expedited to modernize urban transportation. Poor quality public transport sector is a push factor for middle income families opting for a private modes, which made the vehicle fleet three times since 2000.
  • 73.8 % of the urban population have access to improved piped water source (2017)
  • Approximately 20% of Sri Lankan land, housing and 30% of the country’s population lies in landslide prone areas. The coastal belt and urban areas have higher susceptibility to climate change impacts. Hence, the cities and communities across the country that are highly vulnerable to multiple hazards need to promote risk-informed development policies and implement risk-sensitive development projects
  • Annual mean concentration of particulate matter of less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5) (μg/m3) is 11.1 (2017). The Vehicle Emission Testing Programme launched in 2008 helped to reduce PM 10 content in the air to 62-65 µg/m3 (2016)
  • Many urban areas are facing severe problems in managing 10 to 50 metric tons of waste per day. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is expected to reach 1.0 kg/person/day by 2025 in Sri Lanka. Overall, the MSW collection efficiency is only 27% (For western Province it is 51%) and however, 85% of the collected waste is openly dumped while only 5% is being recycled (Saja et al 2021)

Role of engineering to advance SDG 11 – ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’

It is obvious that engineering is the key to achieving SDG 11 targets and engineers from many sectors such as construction, building services, and energy are crucial to the success of SDG 11. Some selected examples from world reputed engineering organizations are provided below briefly:

  • Engineers and engineering are essential for advancing the smart city concepts by integrating green building technologies, intelligent transportation systems, innovative building services and management systems including efficient energy and water management. New areas of technologies such as Building Information Modelling, energy efficient sustainable solutions and artificial intelligence have a greater influence to improve the functioning of central business districts and emerging sub-urban areas. In many of these works, engineering has a significant contribution (REA 2016). 
  • Engineers Without Borders (EwB) in many countries have aligned their work with relevant SDGs. For example, EwB Ireland introduced a “Where There Is No Engineer” (WTINE) initiative to promote & develop smart, sustainable engineerin g solutions to challenges in the areas of clean water, sanitation, energy, transport, infrastructure and healthcare in vulnerable communities. A campaign was designed to promote Nature-Based Solutions for Cities and Communities in Ireland cities (EwB 2019).
  • Making transport more efficient and building better homes are the two investment themes aligned with achieving SDG 11 to make cities and human settlements resilient and sustainable. These themes are directly relevant to construction engineering firms and organisations (Raechel Kelly, ICE 2018). Further, SDG 11 is found to be the most dependent on construction and real estate activities. This research further emphasised the importance of integrating the cultural and natural heritage of the cities in their development activities to preserve the local urban architecture and ecosystem (Sherif Goubran 2019).
  • Since climate change is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces today, it is important that appropriate climate change adaptation and mitigation measures are taken in the city and community development projects. For example, over half of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions originate from infrastructure systems (transportation 26%, energy supply 25% and waste management 4%), making them as key drivers of climate change. Therefore, meeting the commitments set out in the Paris Agreement will require significant climate risk-sensitive and resilient infrastructure related actions, including the implementation of portfolios of progressive policies and investment initiatives. These innovative initiatives need to consider incorporating demand management strategies and new technologies such as low-cost renewables and efficient energy storage solutions (UNOPS 2018).

Next SDG: SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production

In the next issue of digital SLEN, we will continue with the snapshot of SDG 12: “Responsible Consumption and Production‘’. All SDGs are well connected, and thus require a holistic view to address real development challenges. Until then, let us reflect on SDG 11: ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ and its central role in the Engineering sector and profession. Your comments on how we as Engineers can contribute to achieve SDGs can be posted in the IESL Facebook page

  2. Royal Academy of Engineering, 2016. Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Engineering a better world,
  3. Sri Lanka Voluntary National Review (SLVNR) on the Status of Implementing Sustainable Development Goals, 2018. Ministry of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development, Published by the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development in June, 2018.
  4. UNESCO (2021) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Engineering for Sustainable Development – Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, March 2021,
  8. Goubran S. On the Role of Construction in Achieving the SDGs. J Sustain Res. 2019;1:e190020.
  9. Thacker S, Hall JW, Adshead D, Crosskey S, Morgan G, Jones R. 2018 Engineering For Sustainable Development. UNOPS, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  11. Saja, A. M. A., Zimar, A. M. Z., & Junaideen, S. M. (2021). Municipal Solid Waste Management Practices and Challenges in the Southeastern Coastal Cities of Sri Lanka. Sustainability, 13(8), 4556.

Eng. Saja A.A. Majeed

BscEng, MScEng, PhD
Faculty of Engineering
South Eastern University of Sri Lanka