Sustainability Science

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 27–54 | Cite as

Urban water-related environmental transitions in Southeast Asia

  • Peter J. MarcotullioEmail author
Original Article


This article reviews water-related urban environmental conditions in Southeast Asia. It argues that the development of urban environmental challenges in the region follows a unique pattern compared with those experienced in the now developed world. The new pattern is defined by the so called time–space telescoping of the development process. The process of time–space telescoping reduces the levels of income at which environmental challenges emerge and forces their appearance in a simultaneous fashion, as sets of problems. During previous eras, cities experienced sequential environmental transitions. Urban water-related environmental burdens emerged on local scales and expanded geographically and temporally in impact, with growing levels of affluence. Moreover, certain environmental challenges appeared later in economic growth because the technologies and practices that induced these problems emerged at higher levels of income. The article has two main findings. First, except for wealthy urban centers, for example Singapore, cities in the region are experiencing multi-scaled water burdens simultaneously. Second, low-income and middle-income cities are experiencing burdens at lower levels of income than did their contemporaries in the north.


Urban environmental transitions Water-related environmental burdens Scale Time–space telescoping Southeast Asia 



This article was written as part of a project funded by the Asian Pacific Network for Global Environmental Change Research (# APN2006-02CMY), the UNU-IAS, the Asian Institute of Technology, and the ASEAN Secretariat. The staff of Sustainability Science has demonstrated patience and courteousness during the production of the piece. Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments and criticisms. The viewpoints expressed are not those of the funding institutions, but rather, like the mistakes and misinterpretations remaining in the article, the responsibility of the author.


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© Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science and Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UNU Office at the United NationsUnited Nations University Institute of Advanced StudiesNew YorkUSA

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