By Sheikh Khairul Rahaman
Cities in developing countries are in the spotlight of sustaible development with the biggest wave of people rushing to urban agglomeration. It has great importance in achieving the objective of SDG II, which focuses on building sustaible cities and communities. Cities are drivers of economic growth, innovation, cultural diversity and help building resilience. In 2007, 790 cities around the world generated over 80% of world’s GDP. This provides an opportunity for social inclusion, promotes greater equity, access to services, engagement and social mobility. To highlight the importance of urbanization in achieving global development and social inclusion, the World Cities Day, October 31st, 2017 was aptly themed – “Innovative Governce, Open Cities.”
In India, the combined North-Eastern (NE) States of Sikkim, Aruchal Pradesh, galand, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam have a coverage area of 7.9 per cent land and is home to only 3.77 per cent of the country’s population. However, only 18.36 per cent people live in urban area, which is below the tiol average of 31.16 per cent. Low urban population and huge landmass give mammoth possibility to vigate developmental activities in a planned and sustaible manner.
Unfortutely, current rapid urbanization in North East has resulted in a number of shanty towns and tainted living conditions, failing to realise urbanization in its real essence. However, these States are in a better position to tackle the problem easily since only 7.2 per cent urban population live in slums against 17.37 per cent of tiol average. With huge differences in the rate of urbanization among these States [Mizoram (51.51%) as one of the three most urbanized States while Assam (14.08%) is one the three least urbanized states of India], it has unique challenges and opportunities.
In 2013-14, Meghalaya was India’s fastest growing State with a growth rate of 9.7 per cent. However, this growth is not creating enough jobs and livelihood opportunities. During 2011-12, unemployment rate in urban areas in the Northeast was 9.58 per cent, in contrast to 3.4 per cent of tiol average (NSSO data). Tripura has the country’s highest urban unemployment rate with 25.2 per cent, followed by second highest galand with 23.8 per cent.
Data shows inequality in urban area is higher than rural in Assam, Meghalaya, galand and Tripura (NSSO). While on one hand, cities across India are buzzing with industrialisation, on the other hand, people in the Northeast are living in vulnerable and unsafe conditions. With the rapid and unplanned growth of cities, the administration is failing to keep pace with it in providing basic services for all. Despite having 34 per cent total surface water of the country and receiving high rainfall, only 63 per cent (India 70.6%) of urban household in NE States have access to tap water. This is when 74.5 per cent households have a toilet with flush facility and almost 21 per cent have pit or other types of sanitation facilities and none of these cities receive piped water 24X7 (World Bank data). Authorities need to develop resilient infrastructure to mage this huge water resource which can easily meet the need. Provision of basic amenities need to be made, with equal access for all.
While the world is talking about smart public transport, electric cars, driver-less cars — basic connectivity and accessibility, which is the backbone of any city, is a challenge for those living in this region. Census of India 2011 data shows, 28.75 per cent of urban population in NE States commute to work on foot. This sector needs much more focus, innovation and investment; alterte options need to be explored along with conventiol methods of transport.
The NE region is known for its tural beauty. It has a potential of 60 per cent of the country’s hydropower and 50 per cent reserve of oil and gas along with high grade coal and other minerals. Sadly, environment and tural buffers are the first casualty of unplanned urbanization. The Northeast needs a planned and calculated approach for urbanization to protect tural buffers and stop development in fragile locations. Dividend from these resources should go for development of the region. It needs to ensure that these tural resources are not over-exploited and ecological balance is not disturbed.
Most importantly, building resilience at all spheres of the city is a must. The NE region comes under the highest earthquake risk zone (Seismic Zone V), faces several spells of flood every year, along with vulnerability to other tural disasters. Every component of the city should be developed to continue its business during normal time as well as in emergencies.
Lastly, the development process and urbanization should be done inclusive of slum dwellers, migrant workers, children, young and older population, differently-abled person, as well as consider actions to tackle climate change, rapid migration and disaster risks.
(The author works with Save the Children. The opinions expressed are his own.)