Jakarta, 19 October 2015 – Two United Nations bodies, UN-Habitat and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) today launched their much-anticipated report, The State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015 at the Sixth Asian Pacific Urban Forum taking place in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Between 1980 and 2010 Asian and Pacific cities grew by around one billion people and according to United Nations projections they will grow by another one billion by 2040. Asia and the Pacific are now home to 17 megacities (cities of over 10 million people), with the three biggest global cities —Tokyo, Delhi and Shanghai— all located in the region.
“The speed and scope of urbanisation in Asia and the Pacific is unprecedented,” commented Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, the Executive Secretary of ESCAP. “Currently more than two billion of the region’s population lives in cities and towns.
It is projected that by 2018 half of the region’s population will be living in urban areas with over two-thirds of the region becoming urban in 30 years.”
The future of the region’s cities has major implications for the global economy. Today’s 2.1 billion people living in the cities and towns of the 58 countries and territories of Asia and the Pacific already make up more than half the global urban population and the region now has the world’s largest and fastest-growing middle class, with significant impacts on consumption of goods, services and property markets.
“Whereas various coalitions of the public and private sector have, over time, made many Asian and Pacific cities highly competitive in the global economy, this has often happened at the expense of central governments’ traditional roles in assuring domestic equity, equality and sustainability,” said Joan Clos, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN-Habitat. “Consequently, a significant share of the Asian and Pacific population remains exposed to low wages, inhuman work conditions, and poor living environments.
The research also shows the region’s cities are characterized by a dynamic private sector, which has assumed a greater role in overall development over recent decades. Although private sector-led development can be of huge benefit to societies, it is often not inclusive and can result in deeper inequality. Governments at all levels must regulate better and should return with vigour to their primary task — governing in the interests of all.
Among the report’s other key findings are that the region faces an urban ‘data deficit’, undermining its ability to respond to the challenges with informed urban policy and planning interventions. The report argues that Asian and Pacific nations need an urban data revolution to be sufficiently informed to tackle the tasks at hand and ahead.
It also notes that in addressing the needs of urban development it is essential that new forms of collaborative governance emerge. Many Asian and Pacific cities are managed with outdated legal and regulatory frameworks while institutional arrangements are often also inadequate to deal with current, let alone future challenges.
Achieving more transparency in public decision-making as well as establishing institutional accountability should be essential objectives. Strengthening and reforming urban planning through national-level support, such as national urban policy, is critical to creating more responsive and effective local government institutions.
More coherent national guidance and policies are also required to ensure effective local government capacity building and there is a need to address the power-sharing between local and central government. Across the region there is need for a return to stronger roles for public sector intervention and regulation.
Local budgets are inadequate to finance basic revenue expenditure, including adequate maintenance of existing infrastructures. Many small and medium-sized towns across all countries in the region continue to depend on transfer of funds from higher levels of government for capital as well as revenue expenditure.
Rising middle classes are driving shifts in consumption patterns, mobility, services, homeownership and urban environments. But the rise of the middle classes is not an inclusive process; the urban poor remain on the margins of recent growth, youth unemployment remains high, and migrants are often greatly disadvantaged with respect to their rights. Elderly persons’ needs have often also not been taken fully into account. As a result, elderly persons could very well become the region’s new poor, unless governments pay more attention to urban implications of the demographic transition.
The report also contains expert think pieces which highlight challenges and opportunities for the region in four key domains: mobility, social inclusion, sustainable cities and finance.
Bernadia Irawati Tjandradewi, Secretary-General of United Cities and Local Governments for Asia and the Pacific (UCLG ASAC), the largest association of cities and local governments in the region, said: “This publication is very useful as it shows the characteristics of each sub-region in Asia and the Pacific and points out the issues that demand urgent attention so that harmonisation of urban development in the region can be achieved.”
In 1950, the global population was 70 per cent rural but it will become 70 per cent urban by 2050. This transition is now mostly unfolding in Asia-Pacific and Africa. While there has been a steep reduction in income poverty in Asia and the Pacific, the transformations have come at considerable environmental and social costs.
Adequate shelter, safe neighbourhoods, clean water and safe sanitation, health care, transport, or even a private address, are rights still not shared by all. The report provides clear policy recommendations and stresses the need for a holistic approach to help governments tackle these crisis areas.