‘Oh you’re going to Lima? I’ve heard the food is supposed to be amazing’. So goes the typical comment I get from friends and family when I would mention my work related travel plans. And in this sense the city does indeed live up to what is now internationally recognized. In my short amount of time in Lima I discovered it has a gorgeous historic downtown area, a stunning coastline peppered with manicured parks in the upscale parts of town, and a largely flat topography coupled with a near complete lack of rain.
It is the end of another hot day in Rio de Janeiro. I’m tired and sweaty after spending the afternoon checking out the progress on some of the city’s train stations, which are being renovated for the upcoming Olympic Games. But I’m also happy, having witnessed the progress made in improving Rio’s suburban rail system, known as SuperVia, which the World Bank has been supporting for the last 20 years.
Inclusion means that all people and communities have access to rights, opportunities, and resources. Urbanization provides cities the potential to increase prosperity and livability. However, many suffer from poor environments, social instability, inequality, and concentrated pockets of poverty that create exclusion. In South Asia, as in other regions, segregation within cities cause poorer areas to suffer from the lack of access to facilities and services that exacerbate misery and crime.
Medellin, Colombia was once the most dangerous city on the planet with astounding gaps between the wealthy and the poor, vastly different access to services, and the highest homicide rate in the world. Its turnaround has been impressive. Much of the progress has been attributed to the thoughtfulness of its planning to ensure greater inclusion. What can South Asian cities learn from this South American city?
Planning policies and action have often been concentrated on the broad structures and functions of cities. However, drilling down the details can realize an inclusive urban environment that improves life for all in public spaces. In our definition, inclusive cities provide:
- Mobility: A high level of movement between different neighborhoods that provide opportunities for jobs, education, and culture;
- Services: All neighborhoods have a basic level of facilities and affordable necesities such as housing, water, and sanitation;
- Accessibility: Urban spaces are designed so that everyone can easily and safety enjoy public spaces.
What happened in Medellin, Colombia? Medellin offers an inspiring example of how improved planning and sound implementation can increase social inclusion. Two decades ago, Medellin was the homicide capital of the world. Illicit drugs were a major export and hillside slums were particularly affected by violence. In response, the government created public facilities inclusive of libraries and schools, public transportation links, and recreational spaces in the poorest neighborhoods; and connecting them with the city’s commercial and industrial centers. As a result of a planning model that seeks to serve all residents, the city has become safer, healthier, more educated and equitable.
A few months ago, I had a chance to visit the Panama Canal, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. It is truly a mega-structure that is the largest infrastructure project of its time.
When I saw it, what struck me the most was - “How could this be possible”? One hundred years ago, Panama was a country that was just formed and capital markets were not very well-developed. And technology was obviously not as advanced as it is today.
Fast forward 100 years, in the world today, Asia has a huge demand for infrastructure. In Singapore, we know of Hyflux, which has one of the largest desalination plants in Singapore. Sembcorp Utilities has a power plant project in Bangladesh recently and PSA has a port in Guangxi China. These are just some examples of Singapore companies who have gone into infrastructure development. Yet, not enough projects have been implemented, especially in Asia.
South Asia can now reap the benefits of greater regional integration it once enjoyed before its partition into various countries. But first, the region must break down the barriers that impede its intra-regional trade.
You don’t have to be a number-cruncher to enjoy this challenge:
1, 5, 200, and 2,800,000. Close your eyes after reading these numbers. Can you recite them in the right order?
Intrigued? If you’re interested in the development of South Asia, these four numbers will resonate with you. They represent four areas of opportunity for the region to further integrate and thrive economically.
Last month, prior to the South Asia Economic Conclave #SAEC15, Sanjay met with 30 Indian graduate students holding or currently pursuing advanced degrees in history, economics, and South Asia studies. He shared the 4 numbers with them and observed their responses. Here’s an overview of the conversation:
Urbanization provides the countries of South Asia with the opportunity to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations. But to reap the benefits of urbanization, nations must address the challenges it poses. Growing urban populations put pressure on a city’s infrastructure; they increase the demand for basic services, land and housing, and they add stress to the environment.
Of all these congestion forces, one of the most serious for health and human welfare is ambient air pollution from vehicle emissions and the burning of fossil fuels by industry and households, according to the World Bank report, “Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.”
Particularly harmful are high concentrations of fine particulate matter, especially that of 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5). They can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, lung cancer, severe respiratory illness, and heart disease.
Data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2014 shows Delhi to have the most polluted air of any city in the world, with an annual mean concentration of PM2.5 of 152.6 μg/m3 . That is more than 15 times greater than the WHO’s guideline value and high enough to make Beijing’s air—known for its bad quality—look comparatively clean.
But Delhi is far from unique among South Asia’s cities.
What does one trillion dollars look like? In the most literal sense, one trillion – that’s one million multiplied by one million -- is a “1” followed by 12 zeroes. For participants in this week’s Asia-Singapore Infrastructure Roundtable, $1 trillion per year looks like how much infrastructure investment Asia needs to maintain its rapid urbanization.
To advise governments on how to get from here to there, Laurence Carter, Senior Director of the World Bank Group’s Public Private Partnerships Group, and other leaders from around the world shared their ideas during high-level strategy sessions.
“India has the maximum number of young people and these young people will enter the labor market in the next two decades.” These words by the World Bank’s Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer Sri Mulyani Indrawati at the Malaviya National Institute of Technology campus, Jaipur, on September 23, 2015, had all of us listening with rapt attention.
It would be hard to find another place on earth where the improvement of transportation is more impactful on the wellbeing of a population than in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Here, transportation is so severely underdeveloped that travel to other provinces is sometimes nearly impossible, if not downright dangerous.