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Urban Development

Forced Displacement to Cities Demands an Urban Development Approach to the Crisis

MD Staff

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Forced displacement is increasingly an urban crisis that needs an integrated humanitarian and development approach in towns and cities hosting displaced populations to better serve all residents and ensure sustainable urban growth, says a new World Bank report released today at the World Urban Forum.

Forced displacement is among the most pressing challenges in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. The number of people forcibly displaced worldwide continues to increase, particularly in MENA, where waves of unrest and conflict have driven a huge increase in displacement.

In 2016, there were an estimated 65.6 million people forcibly displaced around the world, of which about one-quarter were living in countries across the MENA region. For each refugee displaced in MENA, there are almost five internally displaced people (IDPs).

According to the new, “Cities of Refuge in the Middle East: Bringing an Urban Lens to the Forced Displacement Challenge” report, contrary to common belief, most of the forcibly displaced live outside of camps. Today, most of the displaced are in towns and cities.  This pattern is particularly evident in the already highly urbanized MENA region, where an estimated 80-90 percent of displaced live in towns and cities – significantly above the global average of 60 percent, and underscoring the need to bring in longer-term urban development approaches to address protracted forced displacement situations.

Such a sudden and rapid influx of large populations compounds difficulties that cities already face in the highly urbanized Middle East region, leading to overcrowding of informal settlements and increasing demand for urban services, land, jobs, and housing.

“The reality in the Middle East is that the forcibly displaced are actually urban residents in cities that are struggling to meet the needs of the poor and vulnerable,” stressed Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice. “With the forcibly displaced no longer residing in segregated areas in camps, but, in fact, blending into existing urban populations, traditional programs targeting individuals based on their IDP or refugee status are no longer sufficient.”

Ijjasz-Vasquez emphasized that “In a constantly evolving urban and social fabric, where the location and needs of host and displaced communities are increasingly hard to distinguish, targeted assistance to the displaced should be complemented with place-based development approaches that build on existing governance structures and service delivery mechanisms to promote the welfare of all residents, regardless of origin.”

With the majority of displaced people no longer living in camps and blending into existing urban populations, the international community needs to think differently and apply an urban lens. Assistance targeting individuals based on their refugee or IDP status can be complemented with development approaches that aim to improve the urban environment for all, building on existing national and local governance structures and service delivery mechanisms.

For greater impact, humanitarian and development partners need to work in complementary ways, depending on conditions in host cities, including size, magnitude of displacement, existing infrastructure, as well as services and financial and administrative capacity.

“Although addressing forced displacement in cities is a relatively new challenge, there is much that we can learn from proven urban development approaches, adapted to each situation. Investing in urban services, promoting social cohesion, and building resilient communities and institutions are critical to respond to protracted crises effectively,” said Sameh Wahba, Director for Urban Development, Territorial Development, and Disaster Risk Management, World Bank.

As the refugee crisis in the Middle East wears on, the report calls for a concerted effort from communities, local authorities, national government, and the international community to apply an urban development framework in thinking about forced displacement from an urban angle.

The scale and nature of the challenge also requires governments and the international community to mobilize additional resources. The World Bank has been addressing the unprecedented burden of forced displacement on middle-income countries by supporting countries such as Lebanon and Jordan to access financing on concessional terms through the Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF) for development projects that benefit refugees and the communities that host them.  The GCFF has unlocked $1.4 billion since its launch in April 2016 with the United Nations and Islamic Development Bank.

“A development approach to urban forced displacement expands the focus from reducing the vulnerabilities of the displaced to mitigating impacts on host communities. Supporting the community as a whole in this way can help to shape the overall policy dialogue,” said Axel Baeumler, Senior Infrastructure Economist, World Bank, co-author of the report.

Financial support for this policy note was provided by the Global Program on Forced Displacement, German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, The Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. 

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Urban Development

Creativity, Entrepreneurial Spirit to Form the Blueprint of Innovative Cities of the Future

MD Staff

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Even as new technologies inspire amazement and awe, revolutionizing the way we live our lives, technology leaders from around the globe who have gathered at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions agree that the key elements to the innovative cities and nations of the future are something much more low tech – creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Yossi Vardi, Chairman of International Technologies, Israel, argued that creative human beings are the secret to successful businesses and innovative societies. “The most important thing is the human being, the person. The person is number one, number two and number three. The rest is almost irrelevant,” Vardi observed, “If you find someone that is top talent, hire them … This is really the scarce resource. It’s like in Hollywood and every other industry – there is a creative element. Technology is the enabler, but the real offering is creativity.”

Speaking on the opening day of the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Tianjin, industry experts and technology leaders argued that the foundations of innovative nations – entrepreneurs – are built rather than bred.

While many cities and countries are looking to create their own versions of Silicon Valley and emulate its extraordinary success, Christine Tsai, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, 500 Startups, USA, emphasized the importance of capturing its entrepreneurial spirit instead.

“I don’t think it is realistic to say you want to recreate Silicon Valley, because Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley,” noted Tsai, “I think it is more important to think about what are you are trying to bring from Silicon Valley into your market, to help spur entrepreneurship and build the ecosystem that will help start-ups thrive.”

From manufacturing to medicine and agriculture, Qin Jun, Chairman of Junzi Capital, People’s Republic of China, said that new technologies would allow companies in many traditional industries to enter “uncharted waters”, leveraging data to improve their efficiency. Jun stressed the importance of a conducive environment for the business creatives of tomorrow in China, a country working to foster a new generation of creative entrepreneurs.

“The power of capital will facilitate people down this road,” noted Jun, “Having a dream. A sense of responsibility is also very important; I think that is part of the entrepreneurial DNA.”

Envisioning the innovative societies of the future, Liu Xiao, Senior Vice-President of China Vanke, People’s Republic of China, offered some examples of how new technologies are impacting traditional sectors in significant ways.

“New technologies definitely have an impact on real estate. On several different fronts we are already using artificial intelligence,” remarked Xiao, “We are looking at ‘smart gates’ with sensors that have facial recognition. In real estate there are also wind-, sun-, light- and noise-proof calculations and now there are artificial intelligence (AI) applications that can do these calculations for us.”

To democratize the advantages of new technologies – to ensure the positive impacts of technology are far-reaching and effective, pointed out Ryu Jung-Hee, Partner and Chief Executive Officer of Futureplay, Republic of Korea, technology and artificial intelligence can also be leveraged to solve social problems.

“The biggest problem in South Korean society is that we are facing an ageing society and a lack of labour,” he said, “So I think AI can help solve those problems. In medical services too, [we can use] AI features to fight cancer. Our intelligence can be extended by AI, which means our inequality problems can also be helped.”

Today AI is touted as a magic buzzword, but in the innovative cities and nations of the future, technology leaders believe the technology will become a seamless part of our global existence.

“There have already been a lot of practical applications that happen around AI that we probably don’t even realize, a lot of things to do with curation or smarter services that are tailored towards you and your interests,” pointed out Tsai. “As our technologies develop, AI will become like mobile is already; now, you won’t say you are a mobile company because everything already is mobile, it is just part of the infrastructure.”

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Urban Development

Cities Need to Be “Agile” to Capture Opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

MD Staff

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The world is urbanizing and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming life at an unprecedented rate. Cities must be “agile” – able to move quickly and easily – to enable their citizens to thrive. A new World Economic Forum report, Agile Cities: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, explains the concept of agility and introduces guidelines for measuring agility in key areas of city life.

From the diverse experience of the Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, the report proposes how to assess physical, digital and environmental aspects of agility in eight categories: buildings, land, energy, mobility, IT, security, education and governance.

Alice Charles, Cities leads at the World Economic Forum, said: “The report is meant to provide a starting point for conversations on how city authorities can better prepare for the changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution while improving urban liveability for citizens. Many cities are already blazing a trail in ways others could emulate.”

The report draws examples of agility from cities around the world, including:

  • “Enterprise Districts” in Singapore where zoning is more flexible to allow academia and business to share collaborative spaces and encourage synergy among businesses in different sectors
  • An app for integrated mobility in Quito, Ecuador, which will make it easy for users to plan and pay for a single journey, and that uses different modes of transport such as metro, bus, private taxi and bike hire
  • Consolidation of separate municipal IT infrastructures in Dubai, with shared services now covering over 90% of employees and 95% of budgets, which has considerably reduced emissions from ICT equipment
  • An app in Moscow through which the city government seeks residents’ feedback on urban development issues before making decisions, with over 1.5 million Muscovites already registered.

In an agile city, the government embraces ongoing transformation; planners efficiently rezone land for temporary uses; buildings serve a diverse mix of functions; policing and prevention strategies are smart and data-driven; agencies share and seamlessly redeploy their IT assets; interoperable transport systems are optimized by real-time information; energy networks maximize use of renewables while ensuring secure supply; and the education system quickly adapts to reflect the economy’s changing needs.

The Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization’s Co-Chair, Abha Joshi Ghani, Senior Adviser on Infrastructure, Public-Private Partnerships and Guarantees, World Bank, said: “Already 54% of the world’s population is urban, and it’ll be over two-thirds by 2050. Cities are engines of economic growth and absolutely central to achieving global aspirations such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement on Climate Change.”

Co-Chair Carlo Ratti, Director of SENSEable City Lab at MIT, added: “We know agility is important for cities, but what does it really mean? This report introduces a framework for assessing it, and shares many examples of new and emerging initiatives which can potentially be adapted by other cities.”

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Urban Development

Why public transit is a key economic issue for growing cities

MD Staff

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We’d love to take our daily commute for granted. Except, we can’t. It is essential that we continue to make public transportation as efficient as possible for commuters.

Over the decades, as a nation we have put investing in our transportation infrastructure, particularly our bus and rail systems, on the back burner. The result: Today’s public transit backlog sits at $90 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. This is a missed opportunity to make our public transportation systems more efficient and our cities more productive, and it has serious economic implications.

For instance, a lack of investment in our public transportation infrastructure costs the U.S. economy $340 billion in revenue over a six-year period, according to the study, “The Economic Cost of Failing to Modernize Public Transportation.” The study was conducted by the Economic Development Research Group Inc. for APTA.

“Our failure as a nation to address America’s public transit modernization needs has wide-ranging negative effects,” says APTA president and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas, “because lost time in travel makes a region’s economy less productive.”

Failing to meet growing public transit needs

As the number of U.S. workers continues to rise, so do the pressures on all areas of our infrastructure.

Since 1995, the U.S. has seen a 42 percent rise in public transit miles traveled. Despite that, needed improvements to our bus and rail assets have not kept pace with growth, the study concludes. Furthermore, the study shows how, as the U.S. fails to invest in the upkeep and maintenance in the nation’s public transit assets, it leads to service interruptions and lost time, which leads to lost wages.

Dorval R. Carter Jr., president of the Chicago Transit Authority, oversees a legacy rail system that’s more than 100 years old, and faces the challenge of fixing or replacing aging infrastructure.

“Parts of our rail system date back to the late 1800s,” Carter says, “we are facing an unmet — and growing — capital need of nearly $13 billion and meeting it has become even more challenging given funding constraints not only at the federal level, but especially at the state and local levels.”

The impact of public transit on local economies

Service interruptions and delays because America has not kept up with transit investments have a direct and immediate effect on the economy. If workers can’t get to work on time, it affects their productivity.

When an aging road and rail system adds time and delays to commutes, that puts the brakes on economic output.

“Based on recent surveys of our riders in Central Ohio, we know 70 percent of our customers rely on our service to reach work,” says Joanna Pinkerton, president and CEO of the Central Ohio Transit Authority. “This is just one example of why it is vital to continue investment in public transportation infrastructure to support residents and the economy.”

Pinkerton adds that over the next 30 years, Central Ohio’s public transit system will have to evolve to prepare for 1 million additional residents and 600,000 jobs.

The quality of a city’s public transportation system is an important factor for companies that are looking to expand or relocate. For example, in 2014, Atlanta’s public transportation system played a role in State Farm Insurance’s bid to locate 8,000 new jobs there. One year ago, when Amazon asked cities to create proposals for its second headquarters, the online retailer indicated that it wanted to hear from cities with access to public transit.

The good news is, Congress has allocated a spending increase for the 2018 fiscal year budget for public transit.

“While this is a positive step forward in helping to address the nation’s aging public transit infrastructure,” Skoutelas says, “this momentum must be maintained by providing similar funding levels for 2019.”

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