SDG 10 & 11: Addressing economic disparities and poor urban settlements
The SDG framework identifies inequality as a key barrier in ensuring truly inclusive development to drive human progress towards sustainability and universal wellbeing. The Gini coefficient for Bangladesh fluctuates around the trend line, but the overall trend is downward from 48.9 in 2000 to 31.5 in 2010 indicating declining income inequality. But a much clearer picture of income distribution emerges when one looks at the income distribution between the poorest 10 per cent and the richest 10 per cent. The picture that emerges is: the income share of the poorest 10 per cent is 3.85 per cent compared to 26.92 per cent of the richest 10 per cent. In effect, the income share held by the highest 20 per cent is 41.48 per cent. An estimated 63 million people live under the poverty line in a country of 163 million people.
Bangladesh has also witnessed rapid urbanisation with more than a third of its population now living in urban areas. Although population growth rate has come down to 1.2 per cent per annum, the country remains one of the most densely populated in the world. This urbanisation has been spurred by structural changes in the rural economy resulting from the increased commercialisation of the agriculture sector and widespread rural poverty. But this rapid urbanisation has caused heightened urban poverty with extremely poor living conditions for these rural migrants and also urban congestion.
CLIMATE CHANGE, MIGRATION AND URBAN POVERTY: The genesis of migration lies in people's quest to live or subsist in a form better than their present status. Some migrate for sheer survival, that is, to escape from poverty; others, to improve their quality of life, while still others in search for fortune. Since each of these pursuits is made by people who come from different socio-economic strata and hence have a different purpose for moving, migration is quite a heterogeneous phenomenon. In contemporary low-income economies, however, the principal reason for people to move is the worsening productive-resource-to-human-power ratio, stemming mainly from rapid population growth and an external demand for local resources. This has compelled large sections of the populace to migrate to look for work as a part of their survival strategy. Depending upon the needs and circumstances, people move seasonally, for fixed periods, or permanently. In this sense, the transition economies of South-East Asia, some of which are among the poorer ones in the world, present a picture typical of other low-income countries.
SLUMISATION AND POOR URBAN SETTLEMENTS: The role of migration in urbanisation is obvious in all societies and at almost all times, since urbanisation and urban growth take place through a combination of three components, such as (a) natural increase of the native urban population, (b) area redefinition or reclassification or annexation, and (c) rural-urban (or other forms of internal) migration. In a condition of developing urbanisation, the role of migration is even more pronounced while in the state of advanced urbanisation, where urban growth is almost stagnant or even declining, internal migration plays a minor or almost no role. Rural to urban migration may again take many forms, such as (a) permanent migration, (b) temporary migration, (c) seasonal migration, (d) circular migration, and (c) commuting. The process ranges from short distance mobility (commuting) to long distance and long term movement or permanent migration. In the case of Bangladesh, the status of academic as well as planning studies on internal migration is not too bad, although, all dimensions of internal migration might not have received enough attention. Considerable literature exists on the subject of determinants or causes of rural to urban migration. A Bangladeshi scholar working at an American University has, in a recent paper, classified the models of migration into two groups (i) one which isolates migration as a domestic phenomenon and (ii) the other which places causes of migration within an international politico-economic framework. Migration is the combined effect of both push and pulls factors and it is often difficult to separate the role of the two. Within the Push-Pull model, push factors (at rural end) may be identified for Bangladesh as: 1) Population pressure, adverse person-land ratio, landlessness and poverty; 2) Frequent and severe natural disasters (particularly river bank erosion), and 3) Lack of economic opportunities.
The impact rural to urban migration is both diverse and deep, both at the urban destination end and at the rural origin. Most of the researches have been at the urban end. Urbanisation and urban growth occurring due to migration have both positive and negative consequences and impacts. Some of the positive consequences of urbanisation are the following: Economic benefits: higher productivity, better income etc; Demographic benefits: lowering of age at marriage, reduction of fertility rate; Socio-cultural benefits: modernisation; Political benefits: empowerment, democracy.
Urbanisation is not an unmixed blessing. Its negative consequences are of great concern. These assume critical role under situation of rapid and uncontrolled or unplanned urban expansion. The negative consequences can be grouped as the following: Environmental consequences-- encroachment on productive agricultural land and forests, extreme pressure on housing, growth of slums and the pressure on and urban services; Economic consequences-- income inequality and poverty, ill effects of globalisation; Social consequences-- increased violence and crime, social degradation; Cultural consequences-- entry of alien culture, loss of national cultural identity.
HIDDEN IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE AMONG URBAN POOR: Climate change can directly affect health because high temperatures place an added stress on human physiology. Changes in temperatures and precipitation including extreme weather events and storms can cause deaths directly, or by altering the environment, result in an increased incidence of infectious diseases. Air pollution can be exacerbated by higher temperature and humidity. Finally, virtually all effects of global climate change ranging from sea-level rise to impacts on agriculture and human infrastructures are linked at least indirectly to human health.
The incidence and severity of many health problems increase with increasing temperature. As temperatures increase, the body expands added energy to keep cool. The most immediate consequence, if the body temperature rises above 410 C, is heat stroke. This disturbance to the temperature regulating mechanism may result in fever, hot and dry skin, rapid pulse and sometimes progress to delirium and coma. Also, temperature stress can exacerbate many existing health conditions including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, pneumonia, asthma, and influenza. Mortality from such diseases, especially among children and the elderly, increases dramatically during periods of hot weather. Quantitative algorithms based on historical data that relate morbidity and mortality to weather conditions suggest that global warming will increase heart related mortality.
The combination of higher temperatures and potential increases in summer precipitation could create the conditions for greater intensity or spread of many infectious diseases. However, risk in the human health sector is low relative to climate change induced risks in other sectors (such as water resources) mainly because of the higher uncertainty about many of the health outcomes. Increased risk to human health from increased flooding and cyclones seems most likely. Changes in infectious disease are less certain. The causes of outbreaks of infectious disease are quite complex and often do not have a simple relationship with increasing temperature or change in precipitation. It is not clear if the magnitude of the change in health risks resulting from climate change will be significant compared to current risks. It is also not clear if increased health risk will be apparent in the next few decades. On the whole, climate change is expected to present increased risks to human health in Bangladesh, especially in the light of the poor state of the country's public health infrastructure.
In general, climate change impacts tend to be more on the poor than the rich. Inequality is not inevitable, it is a policy preference. Regarding sustainable urbanism, policymakers should improve urban efficiency in order to lower the cost of living by dealing with urban crowding and providing public goods, eliminate the causes that lead to squatter settlements, and not discourage internal migration, which fosters an efficient allocation of the population and has an equalising effect across places.
Shishir Reza is an environmental analyst & associate member, Bangladesh