Sustainable Development Goal 11 and South Asian urban poverty

April 15th, 2016

The South Asian region comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, The Maldives and Afghanistan. It accounts for 14% of the world urban population and by 2050 most of the population of South Asian countries will be residing in urban areas. However the future for South Asia is greater urban population although most parts of individual countries are rural in nature.

Urban population of South Asian Region

Street dwellers in Dhaka City, displaced from rural areas

Street dwellers in Dhaka City, displaced from rural areas

Urbanisation has happened unevenly.  Some megacities have a high concentration of urban population like Delhi, Mumbai, Dhaka, Korachi, Kolkata and Colombo. But there is unequal resource concentration in some areas of those countries and a large population forced to migrate from rural areas.  People migrate for reasons like disasters, conflicts and there are also some pull factors like employment and standard of living.

Dhaka is the epicentre of Bangladesh’s urban expansion. The World Bank labeled it the world’s fastest growing city, with an estimated 300,000 to 400,00, mainly poor, rural migrants arriving each year. (MHHDC: 2014;World Bank: 2007). A study by the Power and Participation Research Centre in 2010 revealed that only 21% of urban populations were born in the city they resided and this dropped to 16% for Dhaka (PPRC, 2010).

Table1: Urbanization in South Asia, 2011, UNDP 2014

Country Urban Population (1000) % of total population living in urban areas Annual rate of change of urban  population (1980-2011)
India 388,286 31.3 2.87
Pakistan 63,967 36.2 3.41
Bangladesh 42,698 28.4 4.19
Afghanistan 7,613 23.5 4.05
Nepal 5,176 17.0 5.74
Sri Lanka 3,175 15.1 0.37
Bhutan 263 35.6 5.96
Maldives 132 41.2 4.38
South Asia 511,309 30.9 3.04

Disparities in urban areas

South Asia is the second fastest growing region of the world, with most of the economic growth taking place in urban areas while cities contribute three quarters of the region’s economic output. Though cities make a major contribution to economic growth only a minority benefit from this.  We see high rise buildings and luxurious apartments alongside shanty houses on the street and the growth of slums where millions of poor people live.  The number of slums show the extreme inequality of South Asian cities. 35% of the urban population live in slums in South Asia (State of the World’s Cities 2012/13).

The  Mahbub ul Haq Centre report 2014 reveals that the extent of urban poverty cannot be understood only by income indicators, it should also focus on its intensity and severity. The urban poor have to buy everything at a higher cost than others and are unable to earn enough to attain a decent standard of living. Besides, income, the poverty of urban people in developing countries also deprives them of benefits like health, education and gender equality.  More than a fifth of children of urban areas in poor and middle income countries are estimated to be stunted and the incidence is higher among lower income groups. A recent ICCDR,B study in Bangladesh shows that three out of four slum households are in the lowest two quintiles (poorest and poorer)  compared with one in five in  non-slum areas.

Table 2: Socio-economic Status Index, Bangladesh Urban Health Survey 2013, ICDDR,B

Wealth quintiles City corporation slum City corporation non-slum Other urban
Poorest 41.9 7.4 27.5
Poorer 32.5 14.3 22.4
Middle income 18.5 19.3 21.5
Richer 6.1 24.5 19.3
Richest 1.0 34.4 9.2
Total 100 100 100
Total Households 14,806 25,385 10,707

This study also reveals that only 45% of women in slums completed at least primary education compared with 79% in non-slum and 69% in other urban areas.

Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth

Cities are the dominant drivers of the South Asian economy attracting huge numbers of people and generating significant economic activity. According to UN-ESCAP urban centres  contribute three quarters of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP).   The service sector makes a significant contribution to the total GDP of these countries. Earlier the agriculture sector played a major role but gradually the economic contribution of agriculture in these countries has been shrinking significantly.

The South Asian economy has scope to improve its growth with development initiatives for cities and urban people.  To make cities liveable for current and future generations  as well as places of innovation,  it is essential to make existing economic growth inclusive. However the rate of urban poverty is lower than the rural poverty but the total number of poor people in urban area is alarming. For the sustainability of recent economic achievement in poverty reduction urban development initiatives must address poverty reduction. Recent population growth and trends show rapid urbanization, but development policies in South Asian countries are biased towards rural initiatives as the majority of the population live in rural areas.

#SDGs 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainableSustainable Development Goal 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG11)

All United Nations countries have committed to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years.  In this global development agenda goal 11 gives priority to urban settlements with 10 targets.  The first is to ensure safe housing and basic services and upgrade slums and the third is to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacities for participatory integrated sustainable human settlement planning and management.

Practical Action has successfully implemented this kind of urban development project in the South Asian region (Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) in the project Delivering Decentralization: Slum Dwellers Access to Decision making for pro-poor Infrastructure Services (IUD-II Project). The objective was to build the capacity of 44,260 slum dwellers, their organisations and six Local Authorities to plan, deliver and sustain community-led infrastructure services. The project, enabled the most excluded urban poor (untouchables/dalits) to negotiate with city authorities for their infrastructure development, raising funds by themselves for their own community development in addition to municipality grants.  Poor people’s access to other government and development agencies resources has increased, along with the influencing capacity of community organizations, the empowerment of women and raised income levels with demand led skills development.  This project could provide a model for designing similar projects in other cities by linking it with SDG11.


One response to “Sustainable Development Goal 11 and South Asian urban poverty”

  1. Halim miah Says:

    #CBA10 is being held in Dhaka from 25 to 28 April on urban community resilience hope this would be successful to bring some actionable solutions for the countries like Bangladesh where urban poor are very neglected in development planning.

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