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City management is Asia's most pressing priority

Publication Date : 17-08-2012


Fast-growing Asian countries have no other option except to "go green" to ensure that they will not face a scarcity of resources and degradation of existing resources in the future.

A recently released report from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) says unprecedented urban population growth in Asia has resulted in immense stress on the environment. Thus, green technology and innovation are not options but a must for countries to achieve sustainable growth.

Asian countries are seeing the fastest rates of urbanisation in the world. The ADB report says the continent is already home to almost half of the world's city-dwellers. It says that, in just over a decade, Asia will be home to 21 of the 37 megacities worldwide, and over the next 30 years another 1.1 billion people are expected to join Asia's already swollen urban ranks.

Rapid urbanisation naturally causes many problems, including the quality of air, an increase in crime and scarcity of resources. Mass migration to urban areas can lead to homelessness, the expansion of slums and widening economic inequality.

The ADB reports that urban carbon-dioxide emissions in particular, left unchecked under a business-as-usual scenario, could reach 10.2 tonnes per capita by 2050, a level that would have disastrous consequences for both Asia and the rest of the world.

Rising urban populations mean that more than 400 million people in Asian cities could be at risk of coastal flooding, and roughly 350 million at risk of inland flooding, by 2025. Unless managed properly, these trends could lead to even more widespread environmental degradation and declining standards of living.

Asian countries, therefore, must begin to properly manage the growth of cities. A "green" campaign must be pursued as a matter of urgency. City residents must be made more aware of the damage they're doing to the environment, and steps have to be taken to mitigate this impact as much as possible. At a minimum, recycling bins should be made available in more public places and education campaigns must force people in cities to become more environmentally conscious.

Growth in our own big cities, such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, has not been managed well, if at all. Bangkok has seen a massive influx of migrants, due to rapid growth, over the past few decades. The devastating floods last year were partly the result of uncontrolled urban growth, as many new residential projects are sprouting up in areas that should be preserved for farming. The rapid spread of the city has blocked natural waterways that should have saved Bangkok from inundation. And the trash people dump in these waterways blocks the water flow.

In addition, transportation systems are not growing commensurate to the rising population. A majority of city residents depend on private transport, leading to greater emissions of carbon monoxide. The government's policy to encourage people to buy more cars will only exacerbate this problem and lead to a rise in demand for imported fuel. The government should be doing opposite by encouraging people to use mass transit systems, which are more environmentally friendly and more energy efficient.

Urbanisation is inevitable, but it can be managed if there is political will to do so. Apart from green campaigns, the government can help further by encouraging people to stay in the rural provinces. People tend to migrate to where there are economic opportunities, despite the fact that the cost of living in cities is higher. People may not want to migrate if there are opportunities waiting for them in their home provinces. Economic prosperity should be spread out. Unfortunately, so far, we have seen only policies that encourage people to flock into the cities, such as the minimum-wage rise and financial assistance to taxi drivers in Bangkok.

Encouraging people to migrate to cities will not support policies that promote community development, which is a basic concept for self-reliance. In the end, migrant workers who move to the cities often end up in menial jobs, struggling to make end's meet, and suffering from all the problems that sheer numbers of people are causing.


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