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Urban poverty is overlooked

Norwegian foreign and development policy neglects the opportunities and limitations of cities. But the battle for sustainable development is actually in cities.



In 2014, 100 urban regions outperformed their own states in terms of growth, income and employment. Today, 90 percent of all investments, telephone calls and net traffic in cities occur. In the future, many believe that it will be the cities and not the nation states that will determine the development and stability locally, nationally and globally. Aspects such as population density and business activity can be the source of greater social equality, increased economic sustainability and green growth. In such a perspective, cities are not growing fast enough, according to researchers at the Monetary Fund (IMF). But many cities do not grow at all.

These are the challenges the UN's third conference on settlement and sustainable urban development will discuss in Quito in Ecuador in mid-October. The Norwegian delegation is led by secretaries of state from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Municipalities. When the power of the state is diminished and, according to researchers such as Henrik Thune and Leiv Lunde, we are moving globally towards a "stateless" society, we must ask: Is the development of Norwegian foreign policy based on an outdated world view? Also because ordinary people, as a result of the last decades of globalization and democratization processes, turn primarily to local authorities and not to the state for advice and assistance – often through local movements and organizations with national and international branches, which take power from below. Cities' growth in population and power is forcing new governance mechanisms in which the interaction between the private sector and civil society is strengthened, and local "submission" to national authorities is weakened.

Neglected. Over the past 50 years, the number of national states has doubled to 193. At the same time, the number of cities with over 100 inhabitants has increased ten-fold – to over 000. here – it will have consequences for Norwegian foreign and development policy. Cities are increasingly becoming their own social, economic and political actors who influence, but also depend on, regional and global regions. Accordingly, development policymakers and actors must choose approaches that integrate urban perspectives into their work. Knowledge of the functions of urbanization becomes a premise for doing the right things right.

In Norwegian foreign and development policy, the opportunities and limitations of cities are totally neglected. The Storting's Foreign Affairs Committee has never discussed the implications of the global mega trend urbanization is. It is also pointless because the challenges facing the world's cities – including the Norwegian ones – are reasonably identical. In a lecture for the Civitas community planning group in June, Foreign Minister Børge Brende presented the Government's development policy priorities. Urban challenges are completely left out. This is in a context in which the UN last year adopted 17 Sustainability Goals (SDGs) with a city-specific one. What does Brende emphasize?

Trade for development. "We must not send passive assistance – we must deliver active investments," says Brende. The question becomes, given the global competition: Where then? Before 2050, the cities' populations in Africa, Asia and Latin America will increase from two to five billion. In Africa alone, the number of inhabitants has tripled. The challenge will be to build new and upgrade old communities with housing, water, sanitation, electricity, schools, health centers, roads and railways. The need for investment will be enormous, especially in medium-sized cities; 60 percent of the building stock that will be needed in 2030 has not yet been built. At the same time, the growing middle class's consumption contributes to increased environmental problems and the need for new knowledge and technology – which Norway has.

Economic interests take on greater roles in urban planning and development. Poverty grows exponentially. This means a need for new mechanisms that can generate revenue and facilitate more direct cooperation with foreign donors and investors. Norway needs an urban diplomacy that can promote Norwegian exports in the broadest sense to cities and the economic players here. But the recent parliamentary reports on trade and business development in the south do not see these opportunities. Norwegian municipalities and mayors can also contribute to such promotion through their bilateral and multilateral networks.

Peace and reconciliation are a prerequisite. "Preventing war from breaking out is important in a developmental perspective as well," Brende says. When 70 percent of today's conflicts and wars are played out in cities, the question becomes: Where is the urban perspective of Norway and the international and national humanitarian organizations we support? How to prepare effectively to face such crises? We know where they are going and we know where they want to go. Aleppo, Gaza, Baghdad and Mogadishu are just a few examples. How to rebuild safer and better cities for women and children? The link urbanization and climate change with conflict and displacement as a result has created fundamental shifts in the character, scope and effects of humanitarian crises. Many are developing in the countryside. But the victims are not only gathered in remote camps. They apply to the cities and must be integrated.

Norway needs an urban diplomacy.

Common destiny. "The migration crisis is creating waves in Europe and globally," Brende emphasizes. The largest wave of migration does not extend from Syria to Europe, but from the countryside to the cities of Africa and Asia. Annually moves according to UN settlement program (A Habitat) 60 million people to cities. Many gather in close quarters for conflicts. Largest growth is in Lebanon and Iraq. The misery in the cities they move to makes them catapults for later relocation to cities in Western Europe and North America. If the pattern is to be broken, hope must be created for a better future. Especially small and medium-sized cities can "curb" and offer long-term settlement and employment. Integrated urban development needs. In the short term, vulnerable cities are a greater challenge than vulnerable states.

Climate threats are weakening the livelihoods of already depressed populations in poor countries, Brende says. When the causes of climate emissions are in cities, this is where mitigation and adaptation measures must be implemented. 70 per cent of the world's energy consumption and CO2 emissions are urban. The larger cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America are now becoming environmental bombs that blast all borders: in the atmosphere, the world seas and on land. Solutions and resources exist, but must also be made available to city authorities and local civil society organizations. The UN Green Climate Fund does not. It is aimed at large state and regional players. Cities' own exchange of technology and expertise becomes central. As Brende says: "The Paris Agreement ties us into a destiny community with developing countries in the pursuit of common solutions." Yes, and let's concretize and develop it through city-to-city collaboration. Where is the Local Government Association?

The fight against corruption. Urban land speculation and public corruption are central to international crime. Every year, two million people become homeless because the authorities demolish areas where they have lived for decades after decades. Among the squads are the International Football Federation, the International Olympic Committee and the Commonwealth Games. "Drafts" are being promoted in connection with infrastructure and plant development. The Rio de Janeiro Olympics did not become the "inclusive" games. On the contrary, they became the exclusionary games, with hundreds of black youth killed as victims in the "cleansing processes" in the favelas. After the 2008 financial crisis, Africa has become the "last frontier" of international real estate speculators. To oil and mineral rich countries, China, Russia and Western investors lend huge sums to build "fantasy cities" or "world cities", modeled after Dubai and Singapore. A growing middle class can hardly afford to live here, and must be subsidized as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Solheim is leading the way. Erik Solheim is the new head of the UN environmental program. As one of five priorities, he has chosen the environmental challenges in large and medium-sized cities. He emphasizes the fight against pollution of people, land, air and water. However, it can be argued that there is too much focus on the drama in the megabies, and that no one takes responsibility for migrants who have to settle outside the city limits without access to municipal services and democratic rights. In India, the urban population increased by 32 per cent in the period 2001–2011. But 90 percent of the new settlements are not recognized as cities. These are challenges Brende – who has been a skilled leader of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and work on settlement, water and sanitation (2001-2004) – actually knows something about.

Targeted measures. Cities and local authorities must join. As urban, poverty-related aid shrinks, and several countries – including Norway – cut support for the UN settlement program and other actors, Solheim's priority becomes important. But as he argued as Minister of Environment and Development: It is not primarily about aid. Free capital exists. The challenge is to shape political and economic instruments that contribute to urbanization having positive consequences for everyone. It is essential that the sustainability goals, the Paris resolutions on climate and the New Urban Agenda are implemented integrally, not separately. Cities and local authorities, global civil society and private business must be accommodated at the UN negotiations. As the World Development Report (2009) pointed out: "We must promote institutions that unite, connect infrastructure and target actions." The institutions and infrastructure are basically located in cities. And poverty is urbanized.

Berg heads Habitat Norway and has previously worked for 35 years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NORAD with development policy and assistance. The article stands at Berg's own expense.

Eric Berg
Erik Berg
Erik Berg worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs / NORAD from 1978 to 2013. He now heads Habitat Norway.

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