Kumar Deepak | The TrickyScribe : More than two-third of the world’s population will live in cities, up from about 54 percent today by 2050. While the many benefits of organized and efficient cities are well understood, we need to recognize that this rapid and often unplanned urbanization brings risks of profound social instability, risks to critical infrastructure, potential water crises and the potential for devastating spread of disease. These risks can only be further exacerbated as this unprecedented transition from rural to urban areas continues.
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How effectively these risks can be addressed will increasingly be determined by how well cities are governed. The increased concentration of people, physical assets, infrastructure and economic activities mean that the risks materializing at the city level will have far greater potential to disrupt society than ever before.
Urbanization is by no means bad per se. It brings important benefits for economic, cultural and societal development. Well managed cities are both efficient and effective, enabling economies of scale and network effects while reducing the impact on climate of transportation. As such, an urban model can make economic activity more environmentally-friendly. Further, the proximity and diversity of people can spark innovation and create employment as exchanging ideas breeds new ideas.
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As cities grow wealthier, investments in infrastructure and services tend to reduce extensive risks. By contrast, in most low and middle-income countries, urban development is driving new patterns of both extensive and intensive risk, particularly in informal settlements, along with high levels of environmental degradation.
Urban development in these countries is socially segregated, characterized by unequal access to urban areas, infrastructure, services and security. Low-income households, in particular, are often forced to occupy exposed areas with low land values, with deficient or non-existent infrastructure and social protection, and high levels of environmental degradation. The result is a pattern of spatially and socially segregated disaster risk.
As cities expand rapidly, there is a risk that infrastructure will not keep pace with their growth or the increased expectations of their populations. Action is urgently needed to close the infrastructure gap and reduce the potential for risks to have catastrophic cascading effects. The OECD estimates that governments will have to spend approximately USD 71 trillion by 2030 to provide adequate global infrastructure for electricity, road and rail transport, telecommunications, and water.
These utopian concepts, however, are threatened by some of the factors driving rapid urbanization. For example, one of the main factors is rural-urban migration, driven by the prospect of greater employment opportunities and the hope of a better life in cities. But rapidly increasing population density can create severe problems, especially if planning efforts are not sufficient to cope with the influx of new inhabitants. The result may, in extreme cases, be widespread poverty. Estimates suggest that 40% of the world’s urban expansion is taking place in slums, exacerbating socio-economic disparities and creating unsanitary conditions that facilitate the spread of disease.
People, poverty and disaster risk are increasingly concentrated in cities. The growing rate of urbanization and the increase in population density (in cities) can lead to creation of risk, especially when urbanization is rapid, poorly planned and occurring in a context of widespread poverty. Growing concentrations of people and economic activities in many cities are seen to overlap with areas of high risk exposure.
The Global Risks 2015 Report looks at four areas that face particularly daunting challenges in the face of rapid and unplanned urbanization: infrastructure, health, climate change and social instability. In each of these areas we find new risks that can best be managed or, in some cases, transferred through the mechanism of insurance.
Similar situation happened in Bihar’s capital Patna wherein the state government paved the way of the destruction of Mithapur wetlands that had been acting as a major water sink system protecting half of the local population from water logging every year during monsoon. The magnitude of population dwelling adjacent to the erstwhile wetland makes it crucial. Mithapur Farm had been a prominent perennial waterlogged wetland ecosystem which was an important livelihood source through fisheries for locals.
Bihar government back in 2008 notified an Act to develop a chain of educational institutions including Chanakya National Law University, Chandragupta Institute of Management, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Aryabhatt Knowledge University and IGNOU Regional Centre etc. over the same Mithapur wetlands. Not limiting the destruction of the wetland ecosystem to the construction of educational institutions, the state government shifted the old bus-stand from Hardinge Park to Mithapur adding to the area under sway.
Thousands of vehicles & passers-by move across this stretch every day that turns into a complete pond during rainy days. The potholes ambush people.
At a time when international community & policymakers are vouching for a significant role of wetlands in ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction Bihar Government had decided to convert a productive ecological disaster-resilient natural structure into a concrete mesh thereby transforming it into an educational hub.
Bihar Government categorically failed to appreciate the fair environmental feasibility criterion without a proper environmental impact assessment. This was a policy blunder that risked thousands of lives by leaving them vulnerable to the serious threat of urban flooding. Adverse impact on the ecosystem has eventually being seen since then.
(Story published originally on July 17, 2019 an updated only with the video on November 28, 2019)