Urban Growth in Africa and Asia

At almost every other corner in this sprawling city, there’s some banging and clanging as construction of new buildings takes place.

 

The pace of urban growth in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, is breath-taking.

 

Mary Poynter, a U.S. citizen who has been visiting this Northern Thai city for the past 30 years says the city has undergone a transfiguration since she first visited.

 

“I have been visiting this city for the past 30 years and today it’s not in any way near what it was then,” she said in an interview.

 

Karunee Wathinnee, a life-time resident of Chiang Mai, confirmed that there had been a lot of changes in the city, accompanied by an incursion of people from foreign countries.

 

“This city has changed a lot with new buildings coming up everyday, and there are also a lot of foreigners that are living in this city now. Many buildings are coming up, very tall buildings,” she said.

 

What is happening in this city is not happenstance; it mirrors what is happening in many cities across Asia and Africa, where there’s a growth explosion influenced by economic and development booms as many countries adopt new economic models.

 

Around the world, especially in developing countries, towns and cities are growing at a break-neck pace, with both negative and positive consequences for humanity.

 

Economic growth breeds urbanization and urban centers provide people with an escape route from poverty but, ironically, also serve as incubators of poverty for others.

 

According to a United Nation Population Fund report (UNPFA), between 2000 and 2030, Asia’s urban population is expected to increase from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion, Africa’s from 294 million to 742 million, and that of Latin America and the Caribbean from 394 million to 609 million.

 

This is enormous growth. If governments do not adopt appropriate policies, it spells disaster for the future with cities becoming havens of human strife, disease and insecurity.

 

“In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: for the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas,” says the report titled “State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth.”

 

“By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth.”

 

But, surprisingly, 60 percent of the growth will be driven not by rural to urban migration but by higher rates in natural increase.

 

The report notes that a combination of the re-designation of formerly “rural areas” and residents as “urban” plus migration will account for 40 percent of the urban growth.

 

Increased crime, unorganized urban planning, slum dwellings, disease, poverty and environmental damage, among other issues, urbanization will put severe challenges on the plates of policymakers.

 

“The unprecedented urban growth taking place in developing countries reflects the hopes and aspirations of millions of new urbanites,” notes the report. “Cities have enormous potential for improving people’s lives, but inadequate urban management, often based on inaccurate perceptions and information can turn opportunity into disaster.”

 

Many of the people that will find themselves in urban centers will be the poor and voiceless. Migrants, for example, significantly expand urban populations and provide cheap labor but usually fall through the cracks, eventually becoming a security threat.

Women and children, key to the projected urban growth, remain largely out of the reach of key services, including health and education.

 

In many cities of the world, slums continue to crop up, and are significant havens of disease, crime and poverty.

 

“The poor settle in the worst living space, on steep hillsides or river banks that will be flooded, where nobody else wants to live and speculators haven’t taken control of the land,” the New York Times quoted George Martine, author of the report. “They have no water and sanitation and the housing is terrible. And this situation threatens the environmental quality of the city.”

 

The growth of urban areas will be a key definer of human development in the 21st century yet surprisingly little is being done to maximize the potential benefits of this transformation or to reduce its harmful consequences, notes the UNFPA report.

 

“Realistic planning for future urban growth calls for explicit consideration of the needs of the poor. It also requires gender analysis: The particular needs and capabilities of poor women and girls are often unaccounted for and assumed to be the same as those of poor men and boys,” says the report.

 

“And, as population structures change, attention to youth and the needs of the elderly will become ever more important.”

 

The report urges a rethink in urban planning policy to reflect the new dynamics of urban growth as well as to consider the needs of the poor and marginalized populations. 

Advertisements

Why Asia’s Motorcycles Must Go Green

In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, motorcycles screech, drone, and dangerously define their way through cars, in the process, discharging a wide range of pollutants into the atmosphere and human lungs.

 

Motorcycles in this part of Thailand, as in many parts of Asia, are a basic form of transportation.

 

Motorcycles constitute 70 to 80 percent of the vehicular traffic fleet of Asia. As many parts of the region undergo economic boom, it is expected that the number of motorcycles will continue to grow which will significantly increase the emission of hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide.

 

According to the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, motorcycles produce 16 times the amount of hydrocarbons and three times the carbon monoxide emitted by a conventional passenger car.

 

The impact of motorcycle emissions on the environment as well as human health are severe and given the fact that motorcycles are widely accepted as a convenient and cheap mode of transport, there is little to no action being taken to combat their hazardous emissions either by citizens or governments.

 

In fact, in Chiang Mai, it appears that motorcycles have escaped environmental regulation, and it is not rare that a motorcyclist can be fined for not wearing a helmet as opposed to the amount of emissions that their motorcycle produces.

 

Besides the emission of pollutants, motorcycles also contribute significantly to noise pollution, a factor largely ignored by politicians and policy-makers.

 

A study conducted by the Asia Institute of Technology, Thailand in collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Studies, Japan revealed that “under business-as-usual conditions, regional emissions of sulphur dioxide are expected to increase fourfold by 2030 over those of 1990; while emissions of nitrogen oxides are expected to increase threefold.”

 

The omnipresence of motorcycles in the region contributes a huge chuck to the environmental pollution in the region and therefore an alternative transportation system needs to be incorporated into the overall, integrated package to deal with the problem.

 

According to an environment engineer with the World Bank, two and three-wheelers constitute three-fourths of the Asian vehicular fleet, and these emit up to 70 percent of the total hydrocarbons, 40 percent of the total carbon dioxide and a substantial part of the particulate pollution in the region.

 

Making matters worse, motor-cycles equipped with two stroke technology are inefficient at combustion and emit hazardous forms of unburnt hydrocarbons, which damage human lungs.

 

Investing in clean technology in indeed a key priority that governments in the region need to put high on the agenda for the sake of future generations.

 

Replacing two-stroke technology equipped motorcycles in favor of four stroke technology can significantly cut emissions in the region.

 

“On average, a motorcycle with a 4-stroke engine consumes 30 percent less than one with a 2-stroke engine. The emission of particulate matter from a 2-stroke engine is 1.0 gram per passenger kilometer whereas it is 0.2 grams per passenger kilometer for a 4-stroke one,” states the Asia Institute of Technology and National Institute of Environmental Studies report titled “Alternative Policy Study: Reducing Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific.”

 

The report adds that investing in non-motorised, public transport systems can save “significant quantities of energy and reduce pollution levels.”

 

There is also a need for increased public awareness of the damage that is caused by motorcycles to both the environment and human health so that more people can opt for options that are environmentally friendly.

 

A key indicator of Asia’s step towards a greener future will undoubtedly involve taming its wild motorcycle population.

 

And hopefully, in Chiang Mai, as in many cities across Asia, there will be less but clean-technology powered motorcycles weaving their way through the sea of equally clean technology powered vehicular traffic.

The Imminent Threat of Global Water Wars

There is no consensus among water analysts on whether there will be global wars over water ownership, but all factors point to a likely explosion of both intra and inter-state conflict of the precious liquid.

According to UNESCO, globally there are 262 international river basins: 59 in Africa, 52 in Asia, 73 in Europe, 61 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 17 in North America, and overall, 145 countries have territories that include at least one shared river basin.

UNESCO states that between 1948 and 1999, there have been 1,831 “international interactions” recorded, including 507 conflicts, 96 neutral or non-significant events, and most importantly, 1,228 instances of cooperation around water-related issues.

As a result, some experts argue that the idea of water wars is rather far fetched given the precedent of water cooperation that has been exhibited by many of the countries around the world.

“Despite the potential problem, history has demonstrated that cooperation, rather than conflict, is likely in shared basins,” says UNESCO.

However, the fact remains that throughout the world, water supplies are running dry, and the situation is being compounded by inappropriate management of water resources which will unravel previous international cooperation around water.

“Water has four primary characteristics of political importance: extreme importance, scarcity, maldistribution, and being shared. These make internecine conflict over water more likely than similar conflicts over other resources,” says Frederick Frey, of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Moreover, tendencies towards water conflicts are exacerbated by rampant population growth and water-wasteful economic development. A national and international ‘power shortage,’ in the sense of an inability to control these two trends, makes the problem even more alarming,” he adds.

Already, a third of the global population is said to be short of water, sparking fears of social fallout and violence, especially among the world’s poorest and most malnourished people.

Water is perhaps one of the most important yet overlooked elements to earthly life. That’s why the depletion of this precious resource portents serious clashes between communities and nations.

Water, that special liquid which is essential for the survival of all living things, could become a bombshell that will rip apart communities and nations if not managed properly in today’s world.

As global water sources become depleted due to a combination of factors including overpopulation and overuse, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in competition for the special liquid.

Both climatic and human-induced changes are having a negative impact on the world’s water resources. The increasing variability caused by climate change will have numerous consequences on human life.

According to the World Water Council, population growth – coupled with industrialization and urbanization – will result in an increasing demand for water and will have serious consequences on the environment.

Potential social and political division and unrest over access to water will hit hard marginalized populations in developing countries.

As water resources run dry, there will be a reluctance to share the resource in a peaceful and equitable manner.

According to US military analysts, “global-warming water problems will make poor, unstable parts of the world – the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – even more prone to wars, terrorism and the need for international intervention.”

It is predicted that sea-level rise floods will potentially destabilize South Asia countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The Middle East and North Africa is also faced with acute water shortages, a situation that will pit the countries in the region against each other.

“The only matter that could take Egypt to war against is water,” the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat tellingly said in 1979.

Water security is increasingly becoming a military priority for many of the countries in the Middle East, and the threat of wars between countries is real.

In Africa, the scarcity of water will result in food insecurity for already marginalized communities, especially in the rural areas where the majority of the people live. And this will form the basis for internal extremism as people will be forced to migrate and compete for resources.

In all corners of the globe, the animal kingdom will suffer immensely as human beings fight each other over access to water.

“Water is connected to everything we care about – energy, human health, food production and politics,” said Peter Glieck, president of the Pacific Institute, a global think tank, “And that fact alone means we better pay more attention to the security connections. Climate will effect all of those things. Water resources are especially vulnerable to climate change.”