Transborder Migration and the Urban Crisis Challenges of the 21st Century

Keynote address by Anwar Fazal, Regional Coordinator, Asia Pacific 2000 at the Regional Consultation on the “The Impact of Transboundary Migration on Urbanisation”, 13-15 December 1996, Bangkok, Thailand.

History has taught us three very important lessons.

Firstly, every major civilisation was destroyed because it did not make peace with the environment. They blamed it as an “Act of God” or called it a “Natural Disaster” when these events were the “revenge of nature” or due to the “stupidity of mankind”.

Secondly, if you want to know where any small country’s future is heading, look at the main cities – if they cannot manage their cities, they have little hope in managing their future. A “sick city” is a sign of sick civilisation.

Thirdly, if you want to know the real character of a people, see how they treat visitors and foreigners generally. It is the test of their pride, generosity and humanity. We can see the real and worst sides of people’s characters emerging.

For Asia , these lessons are going to be especially important because not only is the 21st century going to be the “Asia Pacific Century”, it is also going to be the “Urban Century”

The Five “Poisons”

Cities in Asia are undergoing some of the most dramatic and spectacular changes ever. Five processes are impacting on them:

Firstly, we are seeing a horrifying explosion of people and new kinds of both richness and poverty.

Secondly, we are witnessing a deafening implosion, a deepening of alienation and anger, manifesting itself in urban violence, and even more, in urban terrorism. The cities are becoming battle zones.

Thirdly, we also see a painful displosion, disintegration, a breaking up of family,  community and indigenous values. We see wasted lives of young children turned on to sick streets, and sicker values.

Fourthly, we face a “techplosion” the introduction of a new complex, often ruthless, technologies operating in environments inappropriately prepared for such ventures. We see the mindless proliferation of armaments of all kinds.

We see them side by side with problems requiring, but not getting, the simple technologies that will give clean water, adequate nutrition, basic literacy and the kind of livelihood opportunities that could wipe our poverty in a decade, if not in a generation. Instead we get potential Bhopal’s (Bhopal is a city in India that suffered an industrial holocaust, that became a mega gas chamber). And we get Chernobyl’s – the symbol of the worst nuclear mismanagement. Our cesspools of sewage also end up as poisonous cocktails. Not long ago, a test for lead levels was done on umbilical cords of some two dozen babies born in a leading hospital in one of the South Asian capitals. The shocking news was that every one of these samples was higher than those acceptable. These innocent babies were doomed to mental retardation. Is that to be our future – maddening development and mad people!

Fifthly, we are also seeing an “infoplosion” – proliferation of mindless entertainment and propaganda that is overwhelming and confusing, often creating new addictions and new distractions, often enlarging the power of bureaucracy and commercial propaganda. The taping of the power of these new information technologies by the poor for knowledge, for advocacy is going to be necessary but it will not be easy, as power will more readily move to the already powerful. Forgive my use of pyrotechnic images – explosion, implosion, displosion, techplosion and infoplosion but thee are “hot” issues.

Good Growth and Bad Growth

Growth can be good and growth can be bad. The Human Development Report 1996, produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), describes five kinds of bad growth:

·         Jobless growth – the overall economy grows, but fails to expand opportunities.

·         Ruthless growth – the rich get richer, and the poor get nothing.

·         Voiceless growth – the economy grows, but democracy/empowerment of the majority of the population fails to keep pace.

·         Rootless growth –cultural identity is submerged or deliberately outlawed by governments or destroyed by the global communications revolution.

·         Futureless growth – the present generation squanders resources needed by future generations.

There is fear that in many of our cities, we are being trapped by “bad” growth.

The Vision

There is a need for a clear vision of our cities.

I suggest a “Panchasila” or five principles that can help us with shaping the future of our cities. The five key elements are that if we want our cities to be our homes, they have to be developed in ways that are:

·         Socially Just

·         Ecologically Sustainable

·         Economically Productive

·         Culturally Vibrant

We can make villages, towns and cities outstanding examples of the Panchasila, with the five values central to their vision, the planning and their action.

Sick Cities

There are at least 10 areas that are crying out for attention in most cities:

1.       Garbage                        2. Air Quality

3.   Water                           4. Sanitation

5.    Cancer                                     6. Housing

7.   Access/Mobility            8. Stress

9.   Literacy                        10. Violence

We have to address these in a creative and integrated way. Unfortunately at the present time, our cities are barely coping. We have both a “caring” (values) and “Car-ing” (traffic) crisis. If we are not careful we may end up with what one sociologist has called “urbicide”.

The Transborder Dimension – Five Challenges

Today, a new challenge has been thrown at us – the challenge of “Transborder Migration”. It compounds and sometimes confounds the whole problem of city living. The world has rarely seen such a global movement of people and such a massive displacement. Over 100 million people are working outside their borders.

There are at least five challenges for us to address.

·         First, that we are addressing a cluster of human rights issues. No human being should be treated the way many migrants are. A regime of criminality is emerging and criminality is emerging and taking root. We need to ask more loudly “what are rights and what are wrongs?”

·         Secondly, we are addressing the reality of a cluster of issues of values, family and other community relationships, sadly, much disintegration and many collapses. We need to ask “what lives, what dies?”

·         Thirdly, we have a range of economic issues. Billions of dollars are being remitted monthly. Local economies are transformed, even distorted. We need to ask “what kind of economics” is breeding and feeding on this issue. We need to ask “who gets rich, who gets poor?”

·         Fourthly, we have the challenge of environmental and health issues, of the transmission of old diseases and new ones, (e.g. sudden death syndrome). We need to ask “who lives, who dies?”

·         Fifthly, we have the challenge of partnership – this issue needs the combined humanity and concerted action of a whole range of stakeholders including, governments, researchers, civil society, UN Agencies and employers. We need to ask “who is responsible, who is irresponsible?

What Can We Do?

I suggest you to think of at least seven ideas.

·         Firstly, think Power and Politics – understanding the nature and structure of power and politics in our society, known how decisions are reached and fully utilise the pressures that make politics work for you.

·         Secondly, think Multiplying Leadership – we have to create not just more followers but more leaders especially among women and youth. If you see this as a social movement, your future is more likely to be assured.

·         Thirdly, think Lateral – link with other groups – mass media, ecology, youth and religious groups. Such alliances make powerful synergy.

·         Fourthly, think Everywhere – encourage proliferation of autonomous self-reliant groups at all levels and all places. Little victories have a way of creeping up to become major transformational surges.

·         Fifthly, think Action – there must be a constant stream of simple, high profile, doable activities that must be specific and have visible targets.

·         Sixthly, think Structural – look at the root cause of the problems, not just the symptoms. There is a story that I would like to share that helps us to remember this:

A man sees a baby drowning in a river. He jumps in and saves the baby. As he is bringing the baby ashore, he sees another baby floating down the river and he rushes in to save the second one. And then he sees a third, a fourth and a fifth. He is so busy saving the drowning babies that he has no time to look up the river to see the man throwing the baby into the river.

  • Seventhly, think Structural – social problems are not going to disappear easily or quickly. We have build frameworks, institutions, resources and people who will ensure the stamina for a long term struggle.

This meeting provides us with a creative opportunity to share and to build both the solidarity of community and the competence of shared knowledge to make real change. It also gives us the opportunity to operationalise the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements adopted recently by all governments. That and the Habitat Agenda can help us shape cities that are socially just, ecologically sustainable, politically participatory, economically productive and culturally vibrant.

The response to Transborder Migration is an enigma in many countries and is now a problem of global proportions. It presents a plethora of contrasts. There are migrants who are leaders and points of affluence and influence. There are many who are poor and disempowered. Migrants can bring out the best in human enterprise but can also be caught in the jumble of greed and criminality that thrives on disorder and dislocation and even racism.  A new humanity is needed and a bold agenda needs to be developed, irrespective of race, class, gender or belief.

We must work to make this new paradigm, which we in UNDP call “Sustainable Human Development” – a reality for more. With the creative and committed people present, I know we will have a great start and succeed in developing an agenda of hope and action.

UNDP’s initiative – Asia Pacific 2000 certainly looks forward to moving together to develop this challenge.

Thank you.

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