Pakistan, long a nation defined by its large rural populations and dominant agricultural industries, is undergoing a dramatic urban shift.
According to UN Population Division estimates, the country is urbanizing at a three percent annual rate – the fastest pace in South Asia. In barely 10 years, nearly 50 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people will live in cities (a third do today). Pakistani government projections using density-based rather than administrative definitions of urbanization suggest that Pakistan’s urban population has already reached 50 percent.
‘The Global Farms Race’: Comprehensive Study of Large-Scale Land Acquisitions Launches at Wilson Center›
Last month, Oxfam made an extraordinary request. It asked the World Bank to freeze its investments in agricultural land.
At a time when urbanization and growing service industries are bringing great neglect to agricultural sectors across much of the developing world, why would Oxfam want the World Bank to suspend its generous levels of agricultural funding?
India’s Environmental Security Challenge: Water, Coal, Natural Gas, and Climate Change Fuel Friction›November 23, 2012 // By Michael Kugelman
Few regions are more environmentally insecure than South Asia.
The region faces rising sea levels and regularly experiences coastal flooding – of particular concern in a region with heavily populated and arable-land-rich coastal areas. Additionally, it is highly vulnerable to glacial melt. The Western Himalayas, which provide water supplies to much of South Asia, have experienced some of the most rapid melt in the world.
›Today, according to Xuefei Ren, 129 cities in China and 45 in India have populations of over a million people. Such large-scale urbanization has created major governance challenges. Speaking at a May 23 Asia Program event co-sponsored with the Kissinger Institute on China, United States Studies, and the Comparative Urban Studies Project, Ren, a Wilson Center Fellow, examined two case studies of urbanization-driven governance in China and India and their effect on citizen rights.
Her first case study involved housing demolitions and urban re-development in Shanghai and Mumbai. In Shanghai, nearly a million households were relocated between 1995 and 2008 to make way for hotels, airports, and luxury apartments. City regulations in 1991 and 2001 legalized forced demolitions, and no prior consent from residents was needed.
However, Ren noted that displaced residents “are not quite powerless.” She highlighted the case of a woman who sued the city government after being relocated and was eventually granted the compensation she had requested. In 2003, China’s central government ordered a freeze on large-scale demolitions. Several years later, it passed a “landmark” property rights law.
Meanwhile, in Mumbai, local officials in the early 2000s had their own re-development plans. The Indian city is rife with overcrowded, low-income housing; slums are populated by seven million citizens (40 percent of the city’s total population), and comprise up to 10 percent of Mumbai’s total land area.
In 2004, aware that most of the slums were located in desirable areas – near airports or in central business districts – city planners recognized a major development opportunity. Over the next two years, officials launched a demolition campaign that left 400,000 people homeless. According to Ren, certain categories of residents were theoretically entitled to compensation, but with “legal protections carrying little weight,” most of them received nothing.
Yet, as in Shanghai, Mumbai’s city dwellers successfully fought back. Housing activists staged acts of “direct agitation,” including a series of street protests and road blockages. Such tactics, said Ren, were “disruptive but effective.” The Mumbai courts sided against the activists in 2006, but India’s Supreme Court later issued a ruling in their favor.
Fighting Land Acquisitions: A Comparison
Ren’s second case study compared land acquisition efforts outside the slums.
Last year, residents in Wukan, a village along China’s southeast coast in the province of Guangdong, launched a protest movement against land seizures. They alleged that government officials had sold their land to developers and failed to provide residents with appropriate compensation. The protestors made two demands: the return of their land and the holding of local elections.
Notably, Ren said, protestors in Wukan affirmed their support for the Communist Party, and never framed their movement as an anti-government effort. In March 2012, local elections were in fact held, with two leaders of the protest movement voted into office (one as village chief, the other as his deputy).
Ren also discussed an attempt by India’s Tata Motors corporation to acquire land in Singur, a village about 100 miles from Calcutta in the state of West Bengal. The company wanted to use this land to construct a factory for the Nano, a small, cheap car marketed to India’s urban middle class. In 2005, the West Bengal government, which had been controlled by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) for nearly 30 years, actively wooed the firm. State authorities “went overboard” in offering Tata Motors subsidies and highly fertile land, said Ren. Small landowners were obliged to surrender their plots at low prices, and in 2006 the corporation formally took over the land (nearly 1,000 acres altogether), despite heavy opposition from peasants.
However, violent protests continued and after several months, Tata Motors was forced to pull out of West Bengal. Then, in a state election in May 2011, the Trinomool Congress Party, led by the populist leader Mamata Banerjee, swept the CPI-M from power. Banerjee had run her campaign on a promise to restore the land to Singur’s farmers.
Just weeks after the new government assumed power, West Bengal passed a law that would allow for about 400 acres from the Tata Motors project to be returned to farmers who had refused government compensation for their land.
Ren acknowledged that in both countries, citizenship rights are not enjoyed by all and tend to be unevenly distributed across social groups. Still, she concluded, Chinese and Indian cities “have become strategic sites for reassembling citizen rights.” By asserting their land and housing rights, city denizens “are becoming active citizens.”
Michael Kugelman is a program associate with the Wilson Center’s Asia Program. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
Photo Credit: Mumbai pipes, courtesy of flickr user lenskap.
›In 2007, the United States built a $305 million diesel power plant in Afghanistan – the world’s most expensive power plant of its kind. Yet the facility is rarely used, because the impoverished country cannot afford to operate it.
This ill-fated power plant does not represent the only time America has lavished tremendous amounts of money on development projects in Afghanistan that have failed to meet objectives. At a December 7 presentation organized by the Wilson Center’s Asia Program and co-sponsored with the Middle East Program and International Security Studies, Rajiv Chandrasekaran discussed Washington’s expensive attempts to modernize southern Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley from the 1940s to 1970s – and the troubling implications for U.S. development projects in that country today.
From Morrison Knudsen to USAID
According to Chandrasekaran, a Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar and Washington Post journalist, the story begins after World War II, when Afghanistan’s development-minded king, Zahir Shah, vowed to modernize his country. He hired Morrison Knudsen – an American firm that had built the Hoover Dam and the San Francisco Bay Bridge – to construct irrigation canals and a large dam on the Helmand River. Shah’s view was that by making use of the Hindu Kush’s great waters, prosperity would emerge and turn a dry valley into fertile ground.
Unfortunately, problems arose from the start. The region’s soil was not only shallow, but also situated on a thick layer of subsoil that prevented sufficient drainage. When the soil was irrigated, water pooled at the surface and salt accumulated heavily. Yet despite these challenges, King Shah was determined to continue the massive enterprise. And so, increasingly, was the U.S. government – particularly when Washington began to fear that if it did not support this project, the Soviets would.
In 1949, the United States provided the first installment of what would amount to more than $80 million over a 15-year period. With this aid in hand, Morrison Knudsen not only completed the canals and dam but also constructed a new modern community. Americans called the town Lashkar Gah, but Afghans christened it “Little America.” It boasted a movie theater, a co-ed swimming pool, and a tennis court. Children listened to Elvis Presley records, drank lemonade, and learned English at Afghanistan’s only co-ed school.
However, problems continued to proliferate. Afghans in Lashkar Gah – many of whom had been lured away from their ancestral homelands on the promises of better harvests – did not experience greater farm yields. In the 1960s, the Afghans severed their contract with Morrison Knudsen, and began working directly with U.S. government agencies, including the new U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The result was some fairly productive farms, but, due in great part to waterlogging and soil salinity, the objective of transforming the region into Afghanistan’s breadbasket was not attained. U.S. funding slowed in the 1970s, and the grand experiment officially ended in 1978, when all Americans pulled out of Lashkar Gah following a coup staged by Afghanistan’s Communist Party.
“We Need To Find a Middle Ground”
What implications does all this have for U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan today? Chandrasekaran offered several lessons for American policymakers. One is “beware the suit-wearing modern Afghan” who claims to speak for his less-development-inclined countrymen. Another is to be aware that “there is only so much money that the land can absorb.” Finally, it is unrealistic to expect patterns of behavior to change quickly; he noted how Afghans in Lashkar Gah continued to flood their fields even when advised not to do so.
These lessons are not being heeded today, according to Chandrasekaran. He cited a USAID agricultural project, launched in late 2009, that allocated a whopping $300 million to just two provinces annually, with $30 million spent over only a few months. He said that while this effort may have generated some employment, the immense amounts of money at play fueled tensions among Afghans. Furthermore, contended Chandrasekaran, the program “focused too much on instant gratification and not on building an agricultural economy.”
In conclusion, Chandrasekaran insisted that foreign aid is essential in Afghanistan (and at the recently concluded Bonn Conference, Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed, calling for financial assistance to continue until 2030). He described past aid efforts as either “starving the patient” or “pumping food into him.” We need to find a middle ground, he argued, and said that working on more modest projects with small Afghan nongovernment organizations is one possibility. The problem, he acknowledged, is that Washington is under pressure to spend ample quantities of money, and therefore depends on large implementing partners – no matter the unsatisfactory results.
Michael Kugelman is program associate with the Asia Program at the Wilson Center.
›Few nations are more at risk from climate change’s destructive effects than Bangladesh, a low-lying, lower-riparian, populous, impoverished, and natural disaster-prone nation. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that by 2050, sea levels in Bangladesh will have risen by two to three feet, obliterating a fifth of the country’s landmass and displacing at least 20 million people. On September 19, the Wilson Center’s Asia Program, with assistance from ECSP and the Comparative Urban Studies Project, hosted a conference that examined Bangladesh’s imperiled environmental security.
Climate Change and Population
rising sea levels and flooding, could migrate to Bangladesh’s urban areas or into neighboring India. Both scenarios pose challenges for the state, which already struggles to provide services to its urban masses and has shaky relations with New Delhi.
Mohamed Khalequzzaman examined Bangladesh’s geological vulnerability in the context of climate change. In a deltaic nation like Bangladesh, he explained, sedimentation levels must keep up with rates of sea level rise to prevent the nation from drowning. However, sediment levels now fall below 5 millimeters (mm) per year – short of the 6.5 mm Khalequzzaman calculates are necessary to keep pace with projected sea level rises. He lamented the nation’s tendency to construct large dams and embankments in the Bengal Delta, which “isolate coastal ecosystems from natural sedimentation,” he said, and result in lower land elevations relative to rising sea levels.
Adnan Morshed declared that Bangladesh’s geographic center – not its southern, flood-prone coastal regions – constitutes the nation’s chief climate change threat. Here, Dhaka’s urbanization is “destroying” Bangladesh’s environment, he said. Impelled by immense population growth (2,200 people enter Dhaka each day) and the need for land, people are occupying “vital wetlands” and rivers on the city’s eastern and western peripheries. “Manhattan-style” urban grid patterns now dominate wetlands and several rivers have become converted into land. Exacerbating this urbanization-driven environmental stress are highly polluting wetlands-based brickfields (necessary to satisfy Dhaka’s construction needs) and city vehicular gas emissions.
The second panel considered possible responses to Bangladesh’s environmental security challenges. Roger-Mark De Souza trumpeted the imperative of more gender-inclusive policies. Environmental insecurity affects women and girls disproportionately, he said. When Bangladesh is stricken by floods, females must work harder to secure drinking water and to tend to the ill; they must often take off from school; and they face a heightened risk of sexual exploitation – due, in great part, to the lack of separate facilities for women in cyclone shelters. He reported that such conditions have often led to early forced marriages after cyclones.
Shamarukh Mohiuddin discussed possible U.S. responses. On the whole, American funding for global climate change adaptation programs has lagged and initiatives that are funded often focus more on short-term mitigation (such as emissions reductions) rather than adaptation. She recommended that Washington’s Bangladesh-based adaptation efforts be better coordinated with those of other donors.
Mohiuddin also suggested that to convey a greater sense of urgency, Bangladesh’s climate change threats should be more explicitly linked to national security – and particularly to how America’s strategic ally, India, would be affected by climate refugees fleeing Bangladesh.Philip J. DeCosse highlighted Bangladeshi government success stories in the famed Sundarbans – one of the world’s largest mangrove forests. Officials have banned commercial harvesting in some areas of the forests and shut down a highly polluting paper mill. He also praised civil society and the media for bringing attention to the Sundarban’s environmental vulnerability. As a result of efforts such as these, the Sundarbans are “coming back,” he said, with mangrove species growing anew. Thanks to a range of actors – from the forestry department to civil society – these forests are also now being “governed more than managed,” said DeCosse.
The Sundarbans – click to view larger map.
DeCosse’s fellow panelists identified additional hopeful signs. Morshed shared a photograph of a green, pristine park in Dhaka. De Souza underscored how family planning programs have worked in Bangladesh in the past, with fertility rates declining considerably in recent years, and several speakers spotlighted efforts by civil society and the media to bring greater attention to Bangladesh’s environmental security imperatives.
Nonetheless, major challenges remain, and panelists offered a panoply of recommendations. Khalequzzaman called for a major geological study of soil loss and siltation. De Souza implored Bangladesh to ensure that women’s roles and family planning considerations are featured in climate change negotiations and adaptation policies. Morshed advocated for imposing urban growth boundaries and enhancing public transport in cities. And several speakers spoke of the need to pursue more effective natural-resource-sharing arrangements with India. Ultimately, in the words of De Souza, it may not be possible to eliminate Bangladesh’s “perfect storm” – but much can be done to calm it.
Event ResourcesMichael Kugelman is a program associate with the Wilson Center’s Asia Program.
Photo/Image Credit: “Precarious Living, Dhaka,” courtesy of flickr user Michael Foley Photography; “Impact of Sea Level Rise in Bangladesh,” courtesy of UNEP; and the Sundarbans courtesy of Google Maps.
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