Improving the Quality of Life of Urban Communities in Developing Countries
Quality of life refers to the extent to which an individual enjoys the important life possibilities, including improved standard of living and general welfare, as well as the feeling of being safe and satisfied with life.
For the past half of the century, the world has been undergoing serious transformations that fundamentally impact our everyday lives. Notable among them include urbanization, industrialization, and globalization, which have dramatically altered the ecosystem, human settlements, national and local economies, and public policies with attendant implications on the environment, public health, and socioeconomic development of communities (Abubakar 2017; Hamdan et al. 2014; Muhammad 2016a). The world is facing challenges capable of limiting the available options towards providing essential human needs such as food, shelter, water supply, sanitation, education, and healthcare (Abubakar and Dano 2018; Mohit 2013a). Other challenges include climate change, environmental degradation, growing unemployment, poverty and social exclusion, energy shortage, insecurity, as well as natural and man-made disasters (Abdel-hadi 2012; Abubakar 2018a). This situation has triggered a quest for policy interventions, programs, and enhanced institutional governance to effectively address and manage the observed challenges towards a more sustainable world (Abubakar and Aina 2016; Hanifah and Hashim 2012).
Accordingly, there is a growing need for collective efforts to promote sustainable development (SD), defined as the “development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987). During the Earth Summit of 1992, 178 nations have adopted the Agenda 21, “a comprehensive plan of action to build a global partnership for sustainable development to improve human lives and protect the environment” (Abubakar and Aina 2016). Later in 2015, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” towards simultaneously achieving all the three dimensions of SD: environmental protection, economic growth, and social equity (UN 2018). The principal rationale for developing the Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to reaffirm the past international commitments to ensure that tangible actions are taken to achieve SD objectives and accomplish what has not been achieved in the Millennium Development Goals (UN 2018). The modalities of achieving SD is through international cooperation and collective action involving all stakeholders from the developed to developing countries (Abubakar 2018b; Muhammad and Abubakar 2019).
Although SD has become a major area of focus in the literature and practice, greater attention has been given to its environmental and economic dimensions with little focus on the social dimension. Even within the social dimension of SD, the literature concentrates on equity in access to livelihood opportunities and basic public services with less attention on the general well-being of individuals and societies (Abubakar 2018c; Gazzeh and Abubakar 2018). As such, there is a growing call for SD efforts to focus more on the overall quality of life (QoL) of human beings (Ismail et al. 2015; McCrea et al. 2006; Mohit 2013b; Veenhoven 2000). For this reason, this entry contributes in underscoring the importance of a comprehensive review of the concept of QoL, its measurement, the relationship between QoL and SD, key approaches of improving the QoL of urban and rural dwellers, and case studies of exemplary projects for improving the QoL of populations in developing countries.
Concept of and Perspectives on QoL
The concept of QoL is fluid, so commonplace that it is found in almost all disciplines, and subject to several interpretations and hence lacking a single commonly agreed definition. It is broadly utilized in a wide range of fields including healthcare, politics, public administration, urban planning, international development, and other social sciences and humanities (Abubakar 2013; Muhammad 2016a; Raphael et al. 1996; Zayyanu et al. 2018). Given that each discipline has different perspectives on QoL, various authors have, therefore, given diverse definitions of the concept. While Szalai (1980) refers to QoL as “the degree of excellence or satisfactory character of life,” Raphael et al. (1996) consider QoL as “the degree to which a person enjoys the important possibilities of his/her life.” While Diener and Suh (1997) define QoL as life satisfaction, Abdel-hadi (2012) associates the concept with improving living standards based on income.
Measuring Quality of Life
Because of its diverse nature, there is no single method of measuring QoL. As such, different objective and subjective approaches are used in measuring QoL (Ana-Maria 2015; Rybakovas 2014). The objective approach empirically measures what people consider being essential to their well-being, while the subjective measures are more concerned with feelings, experiences, and behavior patterns of individuals (Mohit 2013b). The objective measures focus on the actual situations in which people live, while the subjective approach measures an individual’s satisfaction with and feelings about life situations (Muslim et al. 2013). While Mohit (2013a) argues that measuring QoL depends more on the objective approach, several other scholars emphasized the subjective perceptions (Ross and van Willigen 1997; Veenhoven 2000).
The concept can be measured either at an aggregate or discrete level. The objective approach usually measures QoL at the aggregate level by assessing the physical elements of the built environment that contribute to human well-being such as number or proportion of habitable buildings (homes, schools, hospitals, offices, etc.), infrastructure (e.g., roads, railways, airports, electricity, sewer, and water networks), economic status (GDP, income, employment, or assets), environmental condition (pollution and climate change), and social services (health, recreation, education) (Leitmann 1999; Mohit 2013a). Conversely, the subjective approach considers QoL as comprising of discrete domains usually disaggregated at the individual level and more concerned with cognitive experience, feelings, and behavior dimensions according to individuals’ evaluations and perceptions of life.
Several studies have employed the subjective or the objective or a mixed approach to QoL assessment. For example, Noor and Abdullah (2012) investigated QoL of workers in an international corporation in Malaysia using the subjective parameters, Latif et al. (2012) assessed the influence of situational factors and recycling behavior of individuals on their QoL in Malaysia, Circenis et al. (2013) measured the QoL among nurses in Latvia, Ana-Maria (2015) measured respondents’ satisfaction with physical exercises for improving their QoL in Bucharest, and Romania and Zayyanu et al. (2018) measured the extent to which community-based poverty reduction projects improve the QoL of communities in Kebbi State, Nigeria. On the other hand, the objective approach has been used by Mohit (2013a) in studying regional variations in QoL in Malaysia, and Hamdan et al. (2014) assessed the relationship between the pattern of social capital and QoL among urban households in Klang Valley, Malaysia. However, Michalos (2017) and McCrea et al. (2006) argue that a more appropriate and balanced evaluation of the QoL must combine both subjective and objective measures.
Many scholars posited that the subjective indicators indeed reflect the objective variables, which may not be open to people’s perception and experience (Maggino and Zumbo 2012; Michalos 2017). Similarly, Rybakovas (2014) indicates that the overall perceived QoL of individuals (subjective QoL) consists of a set of parameters that are dependent on the measurable variables (objective QoL). Certainly, a mixed approach of combining the objective and subjective indicators provides more insight about QoL and allows the strength of one approach to complement the weakness of the other (Marans 2003). For example, Ismail et al. (2015) used the mixed approach to measure the satisfaction level of residents of a low-cost residential neighborhood in Malaysia.
Importance and Challenges of QoL Assessment
QoL assessment is an important tool for advancing human development. It is useful in evaluating the circumstances in which people live including their needs and requirements, degree of satisfaction, happiness, and well-being. It helps to explore residents’ satisfaction level with different components of the built environments such as housing, infrastructure, educational, health and recreation facilities, public safety and social status, especially in identifying problems, developing intervention policies and projects, as well as in their implementation, monitoring, and evaluation (Leitmann 1999; Marans 2003). It also enables comparison among different countries, regions, cities, and neighborhoods, especially in assessing variations and equity in access to basic socioeconomic services, livelihoods, and environmental conditions (Abubakar 2011; Mohit 2013a). For development policy formulation, QoL studies serve as important sources of information concerning residents’ sociodemographic factors, priorities in life, and causes of dissatisfaction (Abubakar 2018b).
Since the turn of the twenty-first century, QOL assessment is increasingly becoming an important tool for urban and human development planning and management. For example, Omar (2005) used a QoL survey to compare and rank the quality of living among European cities in which Zurich ranked the best, followed jointly by Vienna and Geneva, while Dublin ranked the 8th. The Liverpool City Council also employed QoL indicators in assessing residents’ awareness, usage, and satisfaction with a range of council services, including leisure and transportation (Liverpool City Council 2008). Since QoL of citizens is essential for planning and policy decisions, findings from QOL studies can also be used to inform and educate citizens regarding trends in their QoL to make improvements on their welfare. It helps in identifying persons at risk for poor health outcomes and can inform illness prevention and intervention measures (Raphael et al. 1996).
However, the QoL assessment has some inherent challenges. Being a complex construct with numerous indicators, the measurement of QoL tends to be complex especially where subjective parameters are involved. For instance, measuring objective QoL that is not influenced by subjective opinions may prove difficult since the concept relies more on individual’s satisfaction and feelings about life situations. Another challenge is measurement standardization. For instance, unlike QoL, gross domestic product (GDP) is an internationally adopted framework by governments and policymakers for measuring economic output. However, QoL due to its diverse and subjective nature is yet to have commonly defined measurement domains and indicators. For QOL to be adopted as an international framework, some of the common measurement issues including its diverse measurement methods and indicators should be resolved. Therefore, there is the need to evolve mutually agreed objective and subjective indicators of QoL from socioeconomic, environmental, and human capital domains.
Relationship Between QoL and SD
The definition of sustainable development (SD) has over the years varied both in concept and scope. Its diverse definitions and interpretations in the normative literature are often the sources of the misconception of the term. As opined by Ostrom (2010), SD is one of the most over used and battered words in international development literature. The concept has a myriad of definitions in different contexts including the popular and widely accepted definition by the Brundtland Report (Brundtland 1987) mentioned before. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines SD as the “development that improves the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems” (IUCN 1980). Although the concept covers physical, sociocultural, and economic spheres of life, the academic literature has a bias towards environmental sustainability (Abubakar 2018b).
The 1992 Rio Declaration formulates a commitment for redefining SD and championed a completely new paradigm that integrates social equity, economic growth, and environmental sustainability. A decade later, the World Summit in Johannesburg reaffirmed and further refined the SD declaration to be all-embracing of issues that include poverty eradication, sustainable consumption and production, ecological footprint, and environmental protection, human impact on the planet, which are vital for improving QoL. The terms sustainable cities, sustainable communities/neighborhoods, sustainable projects, and sustainable housing indicate some examples of the areas where the concept has been applied (Abubakar 2013). In the area of housing development, for instance, sustainable housing relates to the ability of a housing delivery system to provide safe, functional, and affordable shelter while reflecting the socioeconomic, cultural aspirations, and preferences of individuals and families for the overall societal well-being (Zainal et al. 2012).
QoL Project Sustainability
A QoL project can be defined as that which proffers lasting solutions to societal problems. The sustainability of QoL project refers to “the ability of a project to maintain its operations, services and benefits during its projected life time,” which involves furthering the project’s goals, values, and efforts for achieving intended results (US Department of Labor 2016). As observed by the European Commission (2006), a QoL project is sustainable when its benefits flow for a prolonged period even after project inputs have ceased. The sustainability of a QoL project also involves ensuring that its objectives are achieved via activities that are consistent with the prevailing conditions and development needs of a community. It is measured as the proportion of goods and services initiated by a project that is still being provided and maintained at the end of the project implementation (Muhammad et al. 2016). It is, therefore, a measure of the level of a continued provision of goods and services, the new initiatives that resulted from and the transformations stirred by the project.
Economic sustainability: It refers to the continued flow of a project’s net benefits, ensuring a reasonable level of economic returns and proper balancing of all the costs and benefits under different conditions.
Community sustainability: It involves active and continued community involvement in development activities. It ensures that local participation in a project’s activity continues over time and with the desirable and active level of participation.
Equity: It entails equitable allocation and delivery of project benefits including goods and services among the community members. It focuses on whether the project incorporates mechanisms for guaranteeing continuous and equitable delivery and access to project benefits.
Logistics: This relates to whether the project has received necessary fiscal and institutional support to sustain the required level of operation and maintenance of project facilities.
Institutional sustainability: This relates to whether the project adequately considered the organizational requirements and provides for continued management support to project operations.
Environmental sustainability: It involves maintaining environmental stability while planning and executing the project to avoid or mitigate undesirable or negative impacts of the project on the environment.
QoL and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The concept of QoL is a subset of the social dimension of SD which involves employing mechanisms that improve the livelihoods, capabilities and overall societal well-being. Given that SD aims to protect the ecosystems and engenders a quality life for humanity, implementing SD principles in space brings about improvement in QoL. The symbiotic relationship between the manmade and the natural environment influences the QoL of the citizens who are living around it in many ways including access to air, water, land, as well as plants and animals (Perloff 1969). Accordingly, both the natural and built environments are important considerations in formulating policies to improve the QoL of citizens. Also, the equity pillar of SD strives to achieve QoL by reducing social exclusion in access to employment and basic social services, including education, healthcare, potable water, and sanitation (Abubakar 2018a; Gazzeh and Abubakar 2018). Due to its importance and direct relationship with SD, QoL is increasingly gaining attention by many governments as a measurable index for achieving SD.
Relationship between QoL Domains and SDGs
1: End poverty in all its forms universally
Eradicate extreme poverty, implement social protection systems, and ensure equal rights to economic resources
Economic condition, personal development
2: End hunger, achieve food security, and improved nutrition
Ensure access to safe, nutritious, and enough food always and increase agricultural productivity
Socioeconomic condition, physical environment, security
3: Healthy lives
Reduce maternal and child mortality, end epidemics and reduce deaths from diseases, reduce deaths and injuries from substance abuse, road traffic accidents, and pollution, and provide universal access to healthcare and health coverage
Healthcare, personal development, security
4: Inclusive and equitable quality education
Provide free, equitable, and quality education, skills, and literacy for everyone and eliminate disparities in education
Education, personal and community development
5: Gender equality
End all forms of discrimination against females, grant them equal rights, opportunities, and participation, and eliminate all form of violence and harmful practices against them
Education, personal and community development, security, health
6: Adequate and safe drinking water and sanitation
Provide adequate and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water and improved sanitation, improve the quality and efficient use of water resources
Health, personal and community development
10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
Achieve and sustain income growth of the poor, empower and promote the socioeconomic and political inclusion of all, guarantee equal opportunity and reduce inequalities
Socioeconomic, personal and community development
12: Sustainable consumption and production patterns
Sustainable production, management, and consumption of natural resources and materials, sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycles
Socioeconomic, personal, environmental, and community development
16: Peaceful and inclusive societies
Improve human safety and reduce all forms of violence (such as physical, sexual, psychological, and trafficking), drug abuse, arms flow, and crimes and their related death
Security, personal and community development
Approaches and Case Studies of Projects for Improving People’s QoL
The first part of this section highlights the role of healthcare, housing, education, water and sanitation, and livelihood opportunities in improving the QoL of people. The second part discusses two case studies of exemplary QoL projects in West Africa.
Key Approaches for Improving the QoL of Populations
Access to adequate and quality healthcare, housing, education, water and sanitation, livelihood opportunities, public spaces, as well as promoting social equity and liberty, peace and happiness, security of lives and properties, and ecological protection are vital to improving the QoL of populations (Abubakar and Doan 2017; Aklanoglu and Erdogan 2012; Veenhoven 2000; Zayyanu et al. 2017). This subsection dwells on key five of the approaches.
Health is wealth with immense benefits to life, which include the absence of diseases, improved health status, and the pursuit of happiness and liberty (Raphael et al. 1996). Apart from the relief from pain and mental dysfunction, quality healthcare improves the overall physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of populations, especially in reducing morbidity, disability, and mortality and increased fertility, life expectancy, and socioeconomic productivity (Bunker 2001). Thus, healthcare is a prerequisite for improving QoL (Abubakar 2018c).
Good housing is among the most treasured aspects of human lives and one of the key components of household wealth. It is vital for meeting human basic needs, such as resting, sleeping, and protection from hazards and harsh weather thus vital for childhood development and people’s overall well-being (Streimikiene 2015). It also provides a sense of personal security, privacy, and personal space, which are essential for starting a family. Housing and tenure types, its physical conditions and that of its immediate environment, and accessibility of amenities are important determinants of good housing required for enhancing people’s QoL (Zainal et al. 2012).
Education and Literacy
Education is a universal and resourceful tool for training and enlightenment about values, behavior, and humanity, which imparts knowledge, problem-solving skills, and capability for self-development and creating livelihood opportunities (Michalos 2017). It is one of the greatest human capitals that transform individuals and societies to lead healthier and happier lives and become more technologically and economically productive (Abubakar 2013; Ross and Van Willigen 1997). It plays a central role in human social development and environmental protection. Certainly, education is a noteworthy contributor to attaining QoL.
Water and Sanitation Services
Supplying adequate and improved water and sanitation is a leading mechanism for QoL improvement. Access to safe and adequate water for individual and household use such as drinking, food preparation, sanitation, and hygiene is a human right and indispensable for life and in safeguarding public health and raising people’s QoL (Abubakar 2011). Using improved sanitation has immense health benefits including reduction of risks in contracting excreta-related sicknesses such as hepatitis, diarrhea, and schistosomiasis (Gazzeh and Abubakar 2018). These essential public services significantly influence QoL of individuals as they are associated with good health, reduction of poverty and inequality, and are among the key indicators of SD.
The amount of socioeconomic activities, innovations, and entrepreneurship in human settlements greatly influences the availability of livelihood opportunities thereby impacting the QoL of residents (Abubakar and Dano 2018). Employment in the primary sector of the economy (e.g., agriculture and mining), manufacturing and trade, and service industries (e.g., insurance and finance, IT and telecommunication, transportation, media, entertainment and advertisement, education, health) provide income, reduce poverty and crime rates, and improve the general living standards of individuals, especially in improving their access to shelter, basic services, education, and healthcare (Abubakar and Doan 2017; Muhammad and Abubakar 2019).
Case Studies of QoL Projects
Improving QoL usually involves planning, executing, and sustaining projects and programs for community socioeconomic development in collaboration among stakeholders: governments, private sectors, local and international organizations, and the target populations. In developing countries, the community-based development approach is an important mechanism for improving the QoL of citizens that attracts international development assistance. This section highlights two case studies of community-based QoL projects in Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
Case I: Community-Based Poverty Alleviation Project in Kebbi State, Nigeria
In Nigeria, the ineptitude of the public sector to independently address the lingering problem of poverty has prompted the application of this model towards improving the welfare of poor citizens (Muhammad 2016b). Based on collaboration between the World Bank and Nigeria’s government, community-based national intervention for enhancing social service delivery towards poverty reduction was adopted. One of the initiatives was the Kebbi State Community-Based Poverty Reduction Project (CBPRP), established in 2001 to improve the QoL of poor people in the State through the provision of drinking water (53 projects), education (145), healthcare (22), and 42 infrastructure and environmental projects (World Bank 2005, p. 6).
In many developing countries, the adoption of a community-based development strategy to improve human QoL has been successful, according to several evaluation studies (Chado et al. 2016; Kapopo 1993; Mansuri and Rao 2004; Streimikiene 2015). In the case of the CBPRP in Kebbi State, an in-house project appraisal has reported impressive results with regards to building the targeted project outputs (schools, boreholes, and health clinics), which suggest good performance regarding the project’s outcomes (Muhammad 2016a). An appraisal of the CBPRP revealed that impressive project’s outputs have been recorded during the project life span. Indeed, the CBPRP model has engendered significant improvements in the QoL of the project’s beneficiaries in terms of the growing number of healthcare facilities, school-going children, and improved access to drinking water. However, the post-project period recorded poor results in terms of the maintenance of the schools and health facilities built under the project (Muhammad 2016b). In another related study, Muhammad et al. (2016) assessed the sustainability of the CBPRP using a framework of indicators. The findings of the study revealed that while the project’s outputs are impressive during the intervention period, the project’s outcomes could not be sustained after the international funding ceased. The authors concluded that the problems concerning the sustainability of CPRP in Kebbi State is due to the “invited” nature of the participation, which lacks genuine community organization and involvement of the target communities.
Case II: Community-Based Rural Development Project in Burkina Faso
In 2002, the World Bank in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNDP, and the Government of Denmark established community-based rural development projects in Burkina Faso. The 15-year projects for agricultural and rural development consisted of 18,250 microprojects designed and implemented in 3,013 villages covering the following sectors: farming, fishing, and forestry (15%); transportation (15%); water, sanitation, and flood control (15%); and other social services (23%) (World Bank 2008).
The agricultural projects included improving land tenure, farming practices, and livestock production that contributed to increased productivity, and natural resource management activities such as soil and water conservation that reduced land degradation. There are also improved water supply projects, health and hygiene infrastructure, and family planning programs that contributed to improving the condition of women. Other social services included improving living conditions of rural dwellers by establishing a borrower program for poverty and a local investment fund for financing subprojects and a national forum for consultation among development partners to monitor socioeconomic, environmental, and institutional impacts of rural development projects.
Similarly, capacity building program strengthened the technical, managerial, and organizational skills of the rural populations, civic society, and decentralized institutions at all levels. The program raised awareness about and provided training on participatory rural development strategies and planning process, partnership for rural development, and encouraging village regrouping. A total of 2,961 village and intervillage management committees were trained on project coordination, administration, and monitoring/evaluation and were able to elaborate and implement their local development plans. The program facilitates civic engagement and better consultation between communities, public agencies, and development partners, which were essential to progress on the government’s decentralized rural development agenda. Most of the village committee members trained by the project were elected in the newly decentralized government agencies (World Bank 2008).
The review of these case studies of QoL projects indicates that designing and executing community-based programs requires a good knowledge of local conditions and the adoption of simple and flexibility implementation and management procedures. Although the engagement of international development agencies is vital for community-based development projects, achieving sustainability of such projects is a major challenge. According to Tango International (2009), 50% and 33% of projects sponsored by International Fund for Agricultural Development were rated in 2007 as moderately and unsatisfactory respectively in terms of project sustainability. Therefore, strong commitment of all stakeholders and effective harmonization of donor activities is critical to maximize local development impacts. Also, operational efficiency, explicit and systematic project monitoring and evaluation, economic returns and community participation is essential for their sustainability.
The processes of urbanization, industrialization, and globalization are associated with transformations that bring about numerous socioeconomic and environmental challenges such as climate change, depletion of natural resources, poverty and inequality, and deteriorating health and living conditions. To address these challenges, countries throughout the world implement QoL projects toward reducing extreme poverty hunger and inequalities, providing decent housing, good healthcare, quality education, improved drinking water and sanitation, livelihood opportunities, quality public spaces, and improving social equity and liberty, peace and happiness, and security of lives and properties. Considering the importance of QoL in addressing these issues, the present entry provided a comprehensive review of the concept of QoL, its domains and measurement, the importance and challenges of QoL assessment, as well as its connection to SD and SDGs. Similarly, key strategies for improving the QoL of urban and rural dwellers and two case studies of exemplary community-based projects for improving the QoL of populations in Nigeria and Burkina Faso were discussed. In developing countries, many QoL programs and projects are executed under the community-based model with sponsorship and intervention funding from international donor organizations for a specific project period, after which the benefiting communities are expected to sustain the projects.
Given that urbanization is an inevitable process and as cities continue to urbanize into the twenty-first century, a better understanding of QoL concepts and strategies and their applications and challenges is invaluable. Accordingly, future research should focus more on the challenges faced by QoL projects and programs towards meeting the sustained aspirations of urban and rural residents. In line with the current globalization and urbanization trends, researchers from different professional spheres should actively pursue empirically based studies on a wide range of QoL issues including basic urban services, housing, infrastructure, transportation, resource utilization, and climate change. The findings of such studies would contribute significantly to addressing the numerous socioeconomic and environmental challenges the world is currently facing towards a more sustainable world for the present and future generations.
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