Urbanisation and the scope of intermediate cities

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The many aspects of labour migration

 

The concept of intermediate cities is not new. The government of Punjab should be commended for introducing the Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement Investment Program worth $600 million in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank. As per the project, in the next ten years, cities with a population between 250,000 and one million would be invested in to improve urban services

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, here you are,

Too foreign for home,

Too foreign for here;

Never enough for both’

– Ijeoma Umebinyuo

 

 

 

It is no news that Pakistan has a considerably high urbanisation rate, with estimates of 2010-15 averaging between 2.8pc to 3.3pc annually. Of course, we might have had better estimates had there been a recentpopulation census, but that is another debate altogether.

There has been extensive discussion over the inability of Pakistani cities to manage the influx of so many people every year. Pressure on the already scarce resources like water, land, and energy hikes and existing infrastructure becomes insufficient to cater to the ever-increasing population dependent on it.

On the other hand, higher urbanisation rate does translate into increased economic growth. Pakistan’s urban economy contributes 78pc to the GDP and hosts one-third of the total population.

But can this economic growth be decoded into increased wellbeing of the poverty-stricken people who leave their villages and shift to cities? Are numbers enough to reflect that people are living a better life? I have my doubts.

Recently, Sustainable Development Policy Institute undertook a study under PRISE to gauge the resilience status of rural inhabitants of semi-arid regions in Pakistan. Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies (PRISE) is a five-year, multi-country research project that generates new knowledge about how economic development in semi-arid regions can be made more equitable and resilient to climate change (www.prise.odi.org). The report is still in process, but the initial findings show that most of the migrants from these areas are between the ages of 14 and 22 and most often migrate to find work, rather than to pursue education.

Consider a young man who moves to a metropolitan city of Pakistan from a remote village in one of the less developed parts of the country. He may have spent a few years studying in the village’s local school, may even have been trained in a particular skill, but as he leaves behind the rural life to find a living in the city, is he well-equipped to compete against hundreds and thousands born and bred in the city and looking for work? Is the quality of primary education in a remote village in South Punjab comparable to the primary education being imparted in Multan, Lahore or Karachi? Are similar health services provided in both areas? Do people in villages get the same opportunities to develop a skillset as those in the cities? You shake your head; so do I.

The movement of less-educated and low-skilled workers for menial jobs to the cities is a gamble – it may improve their financial wellbeing but it may also introduce new challenges that they did not expect prior to the move.

These young migrants lack both the skills needed in the city and the experience of the city life, and often suffer from what is known as the ‘identity crisis’ – the confusion whether they are citizens or villagers. They live in densely populated neighbourhoods and squatter settlements, often quite far from the city. Over-saturation further pushes them into vulnerable settlements such as slums, trapping them into a vicious poverty cycle. With socioeconomic inequities widening, frustrations rise, crime accelerates, terrorism takes a new form and the hopes of a better city life are left far behind. The issue becomes of survival.

The consequences of unplanned urbanisation are not limited to the migrants alone; it takes a wider toll on the social fabric and the issues become political. Evictions from slums and squatter settlements leave the migrants in a more fragile state, bringing the issue of human rights in question.

This is where an internal migration policy could be handy. Among other prospects, a viable solution to manage rising Urbanisation would be to create intermediate cities. The creation of intermediate cities, if properly facilitated with educational, health, housing and employment opportunities, would redirect the burden from urban hubs. These intermediate cities serve as a link between urban and rural interactions by reducing polarisations and may also pull in investment.

The concept of intermediate cities is not new. The government of Punjab should be commended for introducing the Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement Investment Program worth $600 million in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank. As per the project, in the next ten years, cities with a population between 250,000 and one million would be invested in to improve urban services and turn them into engines of economic sustainability.

While the project aims to improve services for the residents of these intermediate cities, special focus should be directed towards managing the inflow of migrants from rural areas and their settling procedure. Impact of migratory movements should be taken into account during the planning phase with regards to an equitable allocation of resources and provision of services.

In addition to the basic amenities, developing the human capital of the young rural migrants at par with the urban dwellers should be made a priority in order to give a level playing field to all for competing in the labour-market. Furthermore, the need for a National Population Census cannot be more emphasised, considering that the only authentic estimates of population and population flows date eighteen years back – a timespan during which a whole new generation can be born and come of age.