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Sustainable development needs an integrated urban approach

19 June 2018 Author: Jihoon Lee, Taimur Khilji and Asami Okahashi

Urbanization is one of the mega-trends facing the world. As the majority of the world’s population now resides in urban areas, poverty and inequality have increasingly become urban issues. It is therefore vital that national-level development strategies and approaches have an urban dimension.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aims is to eradicate poverty across the board and promote the comprehensive development of the countries where it operates, but with the ever-increasing rate of urbanization, especially in Asia and Africa, its work on urban issues has assumed an ever-more important role.

Alongside its broader actions to cover the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a key focus is to provide support to countries in creating the institutional capabilities that can make urbanization more sustainable and resilient.

Tackling poverty in Pakistan

In Pakistan for instance, more than half of the population will be living in cities by 2025. Despite this trend and its social, economic and environmental implications, urbanization is mostly absent from the national policy agenda.

In 2015, the UNDP Pakistan Country Office set-up and convened a Community of Practice on urbanization for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with policy makers, town planners and other development partners to build a learning platform where other four provinces exchange their experiences. Realizing the growing importance of the urban challenge facing Pakistan, UNDP has now set-up a national-level platform on urbanization so that critical urban issues are brought to the fore of the policy agenda.

How city data is helping Bangladesh

The Bangladesh National Urban Poverty Reduction Programme is one of UNDP’s flagship initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region. In identifying the poverty reduction goals for the country, the UNDP Bangladesh Country Office realized that urban issues are a common factor driving overall poverty. Therefore, urban policy and governance, social and gender relationships in cities, urban livelihoods and financial inclusion, and urban infrastructure to mitigate climate change are among the main areas being addressed by the programme.

The UNDP Bangladesh Country Office is concurrently developing The City Information System and The City Index of Bangladesh. They are tools which integrate data in multiple systems—land ownership, transport, water and sanitation, drainage, health, and disaster risk management— and facilitate accurate identification of critical development issues at the national, municipal and community level.

As new cities develop and old ones grow larger, a wider range of problems emerge. In order to overcome complex challenges and deliver on the SDGs, UNDP adopts a multi-scalar approach toward urban issues, recognizing the appropriate management of urbanization as critical in addressing poverty.

At international and regional events like the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur and ASEAN Smart Cities Network in Singapore, urban and built environment stakeholders reflect a growing interest in how UNDP incorporates urban issues in its work.

Public-private sector partnerships

Integrating different sectors and building clear frameworks is one of the main foci of UNDP’s urban work. For example, as one of its most recent actions UNDP has launched a platform where city governments are matched with private enterprises so that they can harness the resources of the latter in finding the best solutions to pressing urban issues such as transport and waste management.

By targeting secondary cities in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand first, UNDP intends to pilot this matching platform for citiesand the private sector to demonstrate results in the form of smart and sustainable solutions to critical urban challenges.  

UNDP continues to deepen its engagement with cities in order to facilitate sustainable urbanization and seek new ways of cooperating with urban stakeholders such as local governments, civil societies and the private sector.

While rapid urbanization might be one of the main challenges of the century, it also presents an opportunity for people to prosper. UNDP looks forward to playing a key role in helping countries make an urban transition that is inclusive, resilient and sustainable. 

Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.

Jihoon Lee, Taimur Khilji and Asami Okahashi

Jihoon Lee, Taimur Khilji and Asami Okahashi

Jihoon Lee is Urban Analyst, Taimur Khilji is Economist and Urban Lead, and Asami Okahashi is Urban Development Specialist, all at the United Nations Development Programme.