What we do



Follow ODI

After 2015: new challenges in development - urbanisation

Time (GMT +00) 15:30 17:00


David Satterthwaite - Senior Fellow, Human Settlements Programme, International Institute for Environment and Development

Doug Saunders - European Bureau Chief for Canada’s Globe and Mail, and author of Arrival City: the final migration and our next world

Claire Melamed - Head of Growth and Equity Programme, ODI

Andrew Maclean -Team Leader for Private Sector Infrastructure, Energy and Basic Services, DFID

1. Andrew Norton, Director of Research at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), introduced the meeting. He stated that the aim was to look beyond 2015 – particularly at issues such as climate change and urbanisation which were not part of the original Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda.

2. Doug Saunders, European Bureau Chief at the Globe and Mail, spoke first.

2.i. Firstly he introduced his new book: Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World. He stated this book offered a broad overview of the issue of urbanisation – not a specific study. The book aims to look at a neglected area of development policy: rural neighbourhoods which are a transitional stage between the rural and urban sphere. The problem is, he argued, that development agencies have tended to see them as static when they actually serve a very active function in the movement from rural to urban life.

2.ii. Next he looked at urbanisation broadly. He showed that the movement from rural to urban life in Africa and Latin America is taking place. It is not, however, occurring through the direct movement of people from rural communities into urban. Rather, it is incremental and sequential. Rural dwellers move to temporary locations with temporary work and often begin to form their own neighbourhoods on the outskirts of ‘urban’ areas. At some point along this journey these travellers see themselves as urban, not rural, although still living in a rural community. He said that the problem is of people thinking that urban and rural environments are totally separate. Often, the source of rural incomes is urban remittances. This is the case in China and Poland.

2.iii. Doug then took the specific example of communities living just west of Cairo, Egypt. To give an overview of these communities:

·         They formed from wasteland ownership.

·         They grew in the 1970s as villagers from northern Egypt moved down, attracted by the economic opportunities.

·         One-third of Egypt’s population live in these kinds of settlements.

2.iv. Doug then went on to describe how the January 2011 riots in Egypt stemmed from just these sorts of communities:

·         The upper working-class living within them have found that they cannot move out of their economic situation any further due to the barriers put in place by the established middle-class.

·         They can carry out their own entrepreneurial life within the settlements but often there are physical barriers – transport especially – to them moving right into the heart of the city: in this case, Cairo.

·         As a result they become frustrated and this foments trouble.

2.v. Doug then went on to talk about the possible future for these kinds of neighbourhoods, using the example if Istanbul, Turkey. In this example:

·         Istanbul was formed by migration from the east of Turkey to the outskirts.

·         The government felt these areas were moving out of control and so attempted to forcibly move people.

·         This then led to the political coup in 1980 as the people became angered.

·         As a result, the government had to officially recognise these areas and offer them formalised house ownership.

·         This meant that, over time, people could settle and the community on the outskirts of Istanbul subsequently grew to have the largest middle-class in Turkey.

2.vi. Doug argued that by getting these transient places under control and normalised you can ensure stability. The problem is that Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) tend to see them simplistically as static sites of poor communities. There has been a growing recognition since the 1970s, however, of the significance of these locations:

·         A policy called ‘Sites and Surfaces’ tried to provide basic infrastructure for these communities. This was abandoned, however, due to the instability which was ripe in areas such as South America, India and the Middle East.

·         Next there was a move to provide these communities with formalised ownership of their property. This, however, failed to address all the issues. In a lot of these temporary communities there are no formal means of property ownership. Legalising property thus causes a complete disruption to an established market.

2.vii. Doug concluded by arguing that one of the best strategy is to launch a ‘shock attack’: sending in several agencies to a community working on various projects such as upgrading housing, providing a street address, providing a police force. The aim has to be to make people legal citizens and to integrate them into city-life. Otherwise they will feel alienated and prone to rebel: as was the case in Egypt and Turkey.

3. David Satterthwaite, Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), spoke next. His main question was: are the MDGs being met? His main argument was that the statistics on progress produced by the World Bank (WB), UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are misleading. They tend to present an overly optimistic picture.

3.i. David structured his talk by going through some of the MDGs and looking at progress according to the WB, and progress according to other measures:

·         Poverty: according to the World Bank, less than 1% of the world’s urban populations are now poor. David asked if this is the case – why are child stunting rates so high?

·         The problem is that urban dwellers have higher monetary needs than rural: transport, rent, healthcare and education (neither of which is usually free at the point of use). These kinds of costs are not, however, usually included in the World Bank’s statistics. Non-food costs are rarely included in establishing a poverty-line. Part of the reason for this is that the poverty-line was developed in the United Kingdom: a country with a welfare state and free healthcare. As a result, these extra costs were not taken into account.

·         David then tried to look at how these costs might affect the poverty line. For instance in Pune, India, officially only 2% of the population are poor. However, 40% live in poverty. The costs of non-food needs are well above the poverty line.

·         Safe water:According to the WB, 83% of those in Sub-Saharan Africa now have ‘improved water’. The MGDs, however, wanted ‘safe water’. ‘Improved’ water includes stand-pipes which 1000s of people can queue for and which often contain contaminated water.

·         Adequate sanitation:According to the WB, 94% of urban dwellers in North Africa and Western Asia have ‘improved sanitation’. This definition however has been allowed to include pit latrines, not sewers. It needs to be recognised that good sanitation comes at the end of a long process: starting with open defecation and moving through pit latrines, a regularly emptied pit latrine, pour flush latrine, and finally a WC sewer with a septic tank.

·         Slums:the UN claims that 227 million people moved out of slums in 2000 to 2010. This is because the UN used the definition of living outside a slum as having a slab over a latrine rather than an open latrine.

·         Infant child mortality rates: The MDGs aimed to reduce under-five mortality rates by two-thirds. The urban average remains, however, at 80 deaths for every 1000 children under-five. This is just an average: in Embakasi it is 250 in every 1000.

3.ii. David argued, however, that it is easy to change a lot of this by just doing the right things. Therefore his recommendations for a post-2015settlement were to:

·         Adjust poverty-lines to include non-food payments

·         Frame issues differently and act on them differently.

·         Remember that aid agencies are only as effective as the organisations they fund.

·         There is a huge chance for local governments to work with the urban poor. They can be the real force for change. There is a need to address MDGs from below: the IIED, for instance, set up a fund to allow grassroots organisations to carry out their own works – such as land for housing schemes in Cambodia, Kenya, India and Malawi.

3.iii. David concluded by arguing that international agencies need to give money straight to local organisations: even if it is just 1% of aid given. The Swedish government has started to do it and the Department for International Development (DfID) needs to do the same.

4. Andrew Maclean,Team Leader for Private Sector Infrastructure, Energy and Basic Services, DfID, spoke next.

4.i. He stated that the major question for DfID and international agencies was whether or not to work with national or local governments. National is, perhaps unfortunately, the comfort zone for agencies who also work at a national level. Moreover, currently, just 0.02% of global GDP is given in aid – there is therefore a need to get private organisations on side and giving aid. 

4.ii. Andrew’s recommendations for the post-2015 settlement were:

·         Scale-up subsidies to health and education: if they are too low then this is not attractive to investors.

·         Helping people in urban areas get access to finance so that they can buy their own houses.

·         Help countries to learn from their neighbours projects: but help them learn the positives.

·         Also, there is a need to recognise the positive aspects of cities. That is where economic growth happens and they can have a positive impact on women too: as services develop so the perception that women should provide these services – water for instance – lessens.

5. Claire Melamed, Head of the Growth and Equity Programme at ODI, spoke next.

5.i. Claire argued that agencies know what they need to do in urban areas – but it’s just not happening. For the post-2015 settlement there is a need to provide the right incentives in order to make agencies work towards the things that people most want and need.

5.ii Specifically, Claire argued that post-2015 there is a need to:

·         Know exactly what is going on in developing urban areas. There is a need for better statistics and data.

·         Understand what people want. Often there is a big discrepancy between what governments, donors and NGOs think people want and what they actually want.

·         Use any post-2015 targets to incentivise people towards the right kind of goals; goals which reflect real modern needs: transport and energy for instance.

5.iii. Overall, Claire argued, we need to be more accepting of risks. She argued that cities are harder environments to work in, in many ways, but  are also places of great dynamism and productivity.

6. Next the debate turned to questions from the floor. The questions asked, and points made, were as follows:

1) Energy is crucial to urban centres: why was this not part of the MDGs and what are agencies doing to address this?

2) With regards to data – there is a need to ask national developing countries’ governments what they think is going on. Often their data is weak and bases on assumptions but they are often unwilling to change their data.

3) The MDGs didn’t consider urbanisation and neither did they frame the issue of slums correctly. The goals were not properly related to the problems of rapidly urbanising areas.

4) It is difficult to get national governments to give up resources to local governments. It is possible to do this but it needs commitment from international agencies and national governments. There is also a need for leadership in local government: people who are committed and have the right skills. It is possible to do a lot with little money – establishing street numbers for instance – but local mayors often don’t wish to do it. There is also a need to ask people what they really want: sometimes this isn’t the large projects that national governments envisage.

5) Why is it so difficult for DfID to engage with local governments?

7. Next came the answers from the panel:

7.i. David Satterthwaite: In response to questions about local government engagement David argued that DfID and the WB are engaging with local authorities – but they need to do more. There are good examples of where this has been successful elsewhere: in Pakistan for instance with the provision of good water supplies.

There are also solutions to the problems of urban areas. Municipalities have started to take on upgrading as the norm and there has been constitutional change – the granting of more power to local government being paramount.

7.ii. Claire: On questions of local government Claire argued that there is need for a political mindset change: stopping people from seeing local government as the graveyard of ambition. On the problems of transport Claire also noted the success of the cable-car as a very innovative but effective solution to transport congestion.

7.iii. Doug: On the question about energy, Doug stated that one problem is that the peripheral, transitional settlements often take energy from cities illegally by using their electricity mains and are not then being charged for it. As a result people are not interested in trying to establish proper, metered electricity supplies. This needs to change.

Doug also argued that the places which normally escape from development traps are those with strong local governments. In many countries local authorities simply don’t exist and establishing them should thus become a goal of development organisations.

7.iv. Andrew Maclean: In answer to the question about DfIDengaging with local governments, Andrew stated that they simply do not have enough experience or knowledge in how to do it. There is also an element of not wishing to move outside the comfort zone.

8. Andrew Norton, Chair and Director of Research at the ODI, summed up:

·         There is often a misconception of urban-rural boundaries

·         There has been an underestimation of the problems in urban areas.

·         There has been a miscalculation of the statistics on development


The move to the city can be a catalyst for increased wealth and opportunity, or can trap people into a life of poverty and insecurity.  Unless we can understand the difference, and incorporate cities and migration into our thinking on development, we will not be able to end poverty or achieve the MDGs.  What do we know about how to tackle urban poverty, and what will we have to do differently if we are to put this knowledge into practice up to and beyond 2015?