By Dizery Salim
GENEVA, 28 September 2012
- A new report by UN-Habitat links the world's future prosperity to the ability of cities to reduce risk and build resilience to adverse forces of nature.
Titled State of the World's Cities 2012/2013 - the Prosperity of Cities, the report identifies soaring unemployment, food shortages and rising prices, strains on financial institutions, insecurity and political instability as challenges to the conventional notion of cities as the home of prosperity.
The wasteful expansion of cities in "endless peripheries" leads to additional risks associated with the provision of water, physical infrastructure, transport and energy, and affects industrial production, local economies, assets and livelihoods, according to the report.
UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos, states that "The report proposes a fresh approach to prosperity [which] not only responds to crises by providing safeguards against new risks, but it also helps cities to steer the world towards economically, socially, politically and environmentally prosperous urban futures."
Using a City Prosperity Index (CPI) developed by UN-Habitat, the report tracks progress across five key issues: productivity, infrastructure, quality of life, equity, and environmental sustainability.
"More than 70 years ago in 1937, the Nobel-winning metric of gross domestic product (GDP) was purported to be the 'mother of all statistics', capturing the notion of prosperity through total production of goods and services. Although GDP spread rapidly and was widely accepted for decades, it is becoming more and more apparent that this aggregate is too narrow to provide the accurate measure of a society's overall well-being today," says the report.
The report finds that cities with "solid prosperity factors", according to the CPI, range across countries with different stages of economic development and human development index ratings. Kazakhstan is ranked the highest while China, Turkey and Brazil are the lowest.
Cities in emerging economies such as Brazil or China are expected to move faster along the path of prosperity -- powered by high economic growth and strong infrastructure. The report cautions, however, that they must tackle inequalities and environmental degradation to achieve a solid level of prosperity.
Margareta Wahlström, who heads the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, supports UN-Habitat's approach, which takes equity and good governance into account when assessing a city's prosperity - these elements also help bolster disaster resilience.
"The findings from our own studies on cities show that low socio-economic development need not necessarily limit all resilience-building activities, especially when the central government and multilateral agencies work together to ensure the right people come together to take action," said Wahlström, referring to UNISDR's newest report, "Making Cities Resilient 2012 -- My city is getting ready! A global snapshot of how local governments reduce disaster risk," which was launched in tandem with the UN-Habitat report.
On 4 September, UNISDR signed a cooperation agreement with UN-Habitat to develop modular training packages, guidance and tools to help local governments build disaster resilience. According to the UN Disaster Risk Reduction Office, this should involve multiple stakeholders such as civil society and the private sector.
"How do you learn most rapidly from the most practical experience and overcome the gap between public and private, and between local and national? It's time to break down some of these barriers, which still exist and are slowing down the learning we have to do to get ahead," said Wahlström.
UNISDR and UN-Habitat both support giving greater leeway to local authorities to manage disaster risk. In early September, Mr. Clos called on national governments to adopt national urban policies to manage the expansion of cities while also giving local authorities greater power and resources.
In the last decade, urban populations in the developing world grew by an average 1.2 million people per week. By 2025, Africa's urban population is set to outstrip Europe's: the aggregate urban population of Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to reach 642 million, 566 million and 560 million, respectively.