Healthy cities require prosperous rural communities

Healthy cities require prosperous rural communities

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By Josefina Stubbs and David Lewis *

Now that the Habitat III summit is over, we see more clearly how to transform our cities into inclusive, safe and more productive environments, and we have a concrete roadmap to achieve it.

The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) took place in the capital of Ecuador from October 17 to 20.

The New Urban Agenda emerged at an opportune moment. Urbanization is accelerating, particularly in developing nations, where the urban population is expected to double by 2050.

In South Asia alone, it increased by 130 million people between 2001 and 2011, according to the latest World Bank study. In addition, another increase of 250 million people is projected by 2030.

City dwellers need more equitable access to basic services such as water, sanitation, housing, as well as nearby medical care and greener and safer neighborhoods.

We cannot reduce poverty without investing in the improvement of both formal and informal settlements. In South Asia, there are 130 million people living in slums, and probably more at the current rate of urbanization

But to drive lasting change and prosperity for all, investments in cities go hand in hand with a major transformation of rural areas so that they are on par with, if not more attractive than cities.

The exponential growth of cities is largely due to the result of the growing gap between urban and rural reality, where the endemic lack of basic services and employment opportunities expels the rural population towards urban centers. In the rush to meet the challenges of urbanization, we cannot lose sight of the rural environment.

Rural communities are no longer isolated from the rest of the world. The younger sectors all have smart mobile phones and an Internet connection; They know that there are places where there are better services, better jobs and a better life than what they can have in their midst.

Men and women leave rural areas in large numbers, leaving communities that they should strengthen and structure, and abandon their friends, their families, and their culture.

They emigrate to the big cities in search of work and a better future, but without formal education or qualification, many are left on the fringes of the society to which they aspire to belong.

The exodus of young people puts the social fabric of rural communities at risk and exacerbates the problems that the New Urban Agenda seeks to address: precarious and unhealthy housing, lack of work, and insecurity and overcrowding.

People migrate when options in their locality are limited. But if they invest in their training, in the development of rural businesses, in technical assistance and offer them economic support, connectivity, good roads, health services, electricity, their options are expanded and the pressure on urban centers is reduced.

We have seen this happen in countries where the creation of a network of decentralized universities increases the number of young people trained and trained in rural communities and how they contribute to transform abandoned rural centers into lively towns.

And we also observed how in communities where the realization of small investments for business development and access to financial services allowed some rural entrepreneurs to start viable economic activities and generate income for their families, jobs for neighbors and services for their communities.

There is another reason that prosperous rural areas are critical to the prosperity of urban centers.

Small farmers and fishermen are the main food producers in most developing countries. In Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, they produce up to 90 percent of what local populations eat daily.

With the growth of the world's population, the quantity and quality of food produced by rural communities will need to be increased.

Rural and urban communities are highly interdependent to achieve sustainable growth. We live in an interconnected world, but where inequalities between people, regions and countries drive increasing numbers of people from their communities of origin to cities in search of a better life. Fresh food will have to reach the markets faster. markets and in better conditions, and farmers will have to pay fairer prices to be able to invest to improve their products, preserve the environment and build resilience to cope with climate variability.

By improving the living conditions of poor rural populations and giving them opportunities for growth, we can reduce pressure on large cities and create more balanced and prosperous societies.

* Josefina Stubbs is a candidate to chair the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), where she was Deputy Vice President for Strategy and Knowledge between 2014 and 2016. David Lewis is Professor of Development and Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Translated by Verónica Firme
Cover photo: Slums in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi interfere with urban planning. Credit: Muhammad Arshad / IPS Internal photo: Children walk in a slum in Peru. Courtesy of the newspaper La República / IPS

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