Inclusive Urbanization – Answer to Address Inequalities

Inclusive Urbanization – Answer to Address Inequalities

The World Bank report on ‘Myanmar’s Urbanization’ released in Yangon on 6 June provides a framework and set of recommendations for an inclusive urban development that creates opportunities for all and secures peace and prosperity.

The central message of the report is that ‘for equitable development of urban society, economic, spatial and social inclusion are to be accommodated and investment priorities have to factor in these three dimensions’. 

Presenting the report, the global lead of World Banks’ social, urban rural and resilience global practice, Judy Baker emphasized the need for commitment from the Government on undertaking bold reforms including progressive taxation and resource mobilization for provision of urban public services. Identifying urban inequalities as a major challenge for the future, she urged government’s policies to focus on social and economic inclusion of communities in urban landscape. Affordable housing, upgradation of physical conditions in terms of living spaces, transport, safe water, waste disposal are important for communities. Identifying key champions for reform in urban development and entry points for private sectors through well thought through models of partnerships would be required. 

The report emphasizes the need for investments in ‘Sustainable urban infrastructure and urban upgrading; building resilience to mitigate the impact of shocks on people’s livelihoods and health and policy changes to facilitate access to legal documentation for migrations and specific sub groups and targeted social programmes for those that are particularly vulnerable to exclusion and capacity building and new financing for urban development. Livability, prosperity, and competitiveness of cities have to be achieved through an “inclusive” cities approach. 

Identifying migration as a major phenomenon in growth of urbanization, particularly in Yangon city, which accounts for 81% of its growth to internal migration from hinterlands, increasing squatter communities, lack of access to safe housing, sewerage, drinking water, job opportunities are challenges in urban areas. 

With the population of Yangon city expected to reach 6.5 million by 2030, urban infrastructure comes under severe strain unless steps are taken to improve the same on a priority basis. The urban livelihoods landscape provides a paradoxical picture of large segment of population in urban informal sector while the formal sector which currently accommodates about three per cent of workforce experiences shortage of skilled personnel. This has been due to the fact that large sections of migrant labour do not possess adequate education and skill sets to meet the emerging urban secondary sector occupations.  Improving education and skill levels of urban labour is a priority for the government and other civil society actors in order to make them employable in emerging opportunities. Economic inclusion of marginalized groups is a necessity not only for sustainable urbanization, it would also enhance social cohesion and peace. Promoting spatial inclusion to improve access to affordable land, housing and services to low income and vulnerable population need to be achieved through investing in equitable urban infrastructure, expanding affordable housing, integrated spatial planning (with mixed housing) resilient urban development.  Participatory planning is important in this context as it accommodates the views and voices of the marginalized groups.

Promoting social inclusion to improve conditions of urban vulnerable groups through social programmes and legal documentation of migrants will help in absorbing shocks and vulnerabilities that these sections face when they migrate to the cities. Good governance and accountability mechanisms are also important so that the decision-making becomes inclusive and accountable.

Panel discussion following the release of the report discussed various challenges of urbanization in Myanmar.  U Thant Myint-U, founder of Yangon Heritage Trust, urged for a collective vision of all stakeholders for urbanization of the country. Cities have to face various challenges of economic integration at the regional level, climate change shocks, and also social cohesion, as people living in the cities have to accommodate these. Pointing out the disconnect between the rich and poor in cities, such levels of inequality in cities like Yangon has to be tackled through inclusive policies. 

Planning, management and governance of inclusive cities reflects the true democratic spirit that the country wants to achieve. Choices are whether to have one mega city, or develop network of cities that meets the needs of the country.  Livability of the city would mean addressing issues of segregation in cities’ development and equality has to become a principle for developing policies. Issues of public services, taxation, spatial planning, and economic planning have to accommodate equality so that rich and poor division in terms of access to services can be minimized.  

Urban policy advisor of JICA, Shigeoki Tanaka identified the need to focus on the future infrastructure demands and also better management and governance as key ingredients for inclusive urbanization.  

Judy Baker, the lead author of the report, identified the need for balancing social and economic imperatives, rule of law are important and constraints of the budget and resources need to be compensated through effective win-win models of public private partnerships and involvement of civil society organizations in urban development projects. 

The growing interest of the domestic and external private sector on Myanmar is a positive signal for urban development projects. CSOs may develop partnerships with local communities, in low-income areas and mobilise and ensure their participation in urban renewal missions.

Echoing similar sentiment, an infrastructure specialist from ADB, U Kyaw Thu sought an effective and transparent policy guidelines and implementation apparatus for PPPs or Public-Private Partnerships.  The need for private sector investment and their participation in the past through BOT models have to be factored in while formulating policies and implementation of PPP guidelines.  Ideas like projet banks and setting up of a separate PPP wing within the Ministry of Finance and Planning are some positive steps in this direction.  Community-led approaches for low cost housing through micro finance can also be explored.

Deputy Director General of Department of Urban and Housing Development U Myint Naing sought technical knowledge and assistance from development partners in addressing urban development challenges of the Yangon Regional Government. 

Panelists identified low-cost housing, skill shortage, housing and land entitlements in slum areas, re-development and rehabilitation of basic infrastructure, social welfare programmes for marginalized as necessary features for urban renewal. Experiences and models from other countries and technical assistance from expert organizations like the World Bank are important in order to make urban development an inclusive experience for all.