Finance, climate change ministers, highlight causes and impact of urbanisation

ISLAMABAD: In the launching ceremony of the State of Pakistani Cities report under the agenda of ‘Role of Cities in National Economic Development’ held in Islamabad Mariott Hotel on Thursday, the Federal Minister for Finance, Planning, Development and Reform Dr Shamshad Akhtar, along with Federal Minister for Climate Change Muhammad Yusuf Shaikh, United Nations Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne, and Australian High Commissioner Margaret Adamson addressed the ceremony and highlighted the causes and impacts of urbanisation.

In Asia and the Pacific, phenomenal growth in the rate of urbanisation has gripped the federal and local policymakers. By 2050, the urban population in Asia and the Pacific will reach 3.2 billion and worldwide 70 per cent of the world population will be living in cities. So Pakistan is not unique in experiencing fast and phenomenal urbanisation but the underlying high growth momentum of population and relocations generate new dynamics and challenges.

The State of Pakistani Cities report also highlights that Pakistan is no exception and is poised to witness renewed urban growth.  There are some distinct features of Pakistan urbanization that need to be and have been recognized well in the Report.

Growth in urbanisation was propelled by a combination of factors: initially, it has been driven by internal migration followed by the relocation of people in response to natural calamities and influx of refugees through the income, the economic and productive disparities have continued to drive people in rural and peripheral areas right into urban centres. It’s as such no surprise that over 1972-98 period 64.9 per cent of Pakistan urban growth was found to be driven by internal migration, while natural growth was 35 per cent. Urban growth coupled with rapid and differential population pressures have changed Pakistan’s urban landscape.  Ten top cities have varying taxonomy: one city accounting for the bulk of economic activity and revenues and services emerging as a major source of urban income

Poverty incidence is exceptionally high in 6 out of ten top cities. Population density, the rise in informal economy and poorly planned development render spatial landscape vulnerable. There are multiple developments that also have positive and negative implications such as the urban transformation of rural settlements and from intra-urban migration from smaller cities. New planned developments are taking place in the periphery of existing cities along transport routes.

The fundamental problem our cities face is weak urban governance management system where core services function is in hands of outdated and inefficient boards and bodies and the unaccountable local electorate and weak urban and land planning and management and lack of civic sense.   Besides the immediate distress to the population, the way urban growth is being pursued there is serious future environmental consequences given risks emanating from waste disposal management system and GHG emissions from industrial pollutants and fuel inefficient transport system.

While we cannot change our urbanisation history, we can influence how we manage the urban economies and its future growth and socio-economic development. Pakistan Vision 2025 aims at transforming our urban areas into creative, eco-friendly sustainable cities through improved city governance, effective urban planning, efficient local mobility infrastructure (mass transit systems) and better security to make urbanization an important driver of growth. Vision 2025 also seeks to ensure that Pakistan’s cities are digitally connected, where the free flow of information is possible, thereby laying the foundations for the cities of Pakistan to be smart and creative.

With the adoption of sustainable development agenda inclusive of SDG, Addis Abba and Paris Accord, mainstreaming inclusiveness, equity and sustainability have to be the core principles for urbanization embedded in concern for the present and future generations.  Sequencing urban sustainable development requires first and foremost a cadre of competent Mayors and local councilors committed to effective spatial planning and execution and adopting modern and efficient land management practices.

Second, revamping and restructuring the governance of service providers of a city needs to be accompanied by effective coordination mechanism with someone incharge and accountable.

Third, emphasis on integrated people centered urban development needs to be mainstreamed – this calls for a fresh examination of Urban SDG architecture and a study of its interlinkages with all related SDGs – for example, transport, energy and climate related goals to name a few.  There must be people incharge in municipalities and localities for execution of an agreed Urban SDG action plan.

Fourth, the world over there is a wave of developing smart cities taking advantage of the technological revolution where a combination of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and robotics and internet of things is changing the way we do business and service deliveries.   Smarter development calls for nurturing young techies and allowing them space to promote startups and venture capital.  Our corporate leaders know it all and should sponsor and finance this change which would speed up quality urban development and service delivery.

Finally, the most important is urban finances which for decades has been a neglected subject. We need to consider the establishment of an Institute of Municipal and Urban Finances in Pakistan that not only conducts high-quality research but provides high-quality tax policy advisory on how to strengthen provincial-local finance relationship and design effective public financial management plans with emphasis on both how to leverage local resources as well as effective expenditure management. We need to broaden the local tax base and train a cadre of tax collectors who could assist in enhancing collection.

Between this report and other wealth of urban strategies and planning documents, we have enough to define our way forward and prioritize its execution. In today’s world, provincial and urban responsibilities far outweigh those of federal responsibilities and with the last award of NFC now it’s incumbent on provinces and urban political leaders, policymakers and executioner’s to respond to the sincerity of their urban constituencies.

Promoting well balanced industrial and service development with due care for environment and need for easing congestion and improving quality of services for all will augur well for our nation.

Good news is that CPEC will catalyse new infrastructure that will link better urban centres with emerging industrial clusters. Localities need to be supportive of this initiative. Development can be expedited provided provinces and municipalities offer one window expeditious basic services to the Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

Export orientation of our economy will not only ease our macroeconomic complexities but will bring prosperity and employment to adjoining new industrial development being pursued in urban periphery.

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