8 April 2008


8 April 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE on population and development commission


Many Governments addressing the current session of the Commission on Population and Development were still reluctant to acknowledge the merits of urbanization and in some cases they hoped to reverse the process, Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference.

Briefing correspondents on the Commission’s session this week on “World Urbanization:  Opportunities and Challenges”, Ms. Zlotnik said the Commission had not addressed the issue of population distribution for 10 years.  “Although some statements that we’ve heard do make the point that this is positive, the general statement of the Group of 77 warned us that we should not be too optimistic about what urbanization meant,” she said.

Future population growth around the world would occur mainly in cities -- a positive trend that would drive economic growth, she said.  But, instead of focusing on the ensuing challenges, many Governments in middle-income and least developed countries remained steadfast in their commitment to keep rural populations in the countryside.  Similarly, some industrialized nations had expressed concerns about the total disappearance of the rural way of life.  “They’re very worried about maintaining some people in rural areas, because the tendency is to urbanize 100 per cent,” she said, pointing to developed nations that had enacted policies to engage rural people in economic activities that were not currently necessary, just to stem migration to urban areas.

David Satterthwaite, Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, said the real problem was not urbanization, but the failure of federal authorities to adjust to it and to provide prosperous cities with the requisite water, sanitation and health-care infrastructure to sustain burgeoning populations, as well as curb fossil fuel use.  “Compact, well-designed, well-governed, well-managed cities actually generate fantastic quality of life at a relatively low level of greenhouse gas emission.  Mr. Satterthwaite said, “So, not only are cities very important for poverty reduction, they’re also very important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and allowing us to combine a very high quality of life with a relatively low draw on the world’s system.”

He also pointed the finger at the refusal of aid agencies to work in urban areas for the past three decades.  “I think that we will look back in 10 to 20 years and we will identify the incapacity and the ignorance of aid agencies to support urban development as one of the great mistakes of the past 10 to 15 years,” he said.

Helen Zille, Mayor of Cape Town and former Minister of Education in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, described her first-hand experience with such concerns.  People in depressed rural areas had flocked to the economically booming Cape Town in search of jobs and access to clinics and schools for their children, she said.  But, it was very difficult to install and deliver services in the densely populated shack settlements where they lived.

“Ironically it was costing us much more to densify and build up than to spread out,” she said, noting that basic road, water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure for an urban three-story walk-up with four rooms would cost four times the basic state subsidy per unit, in a context where people could not afford to pay anything for housing.  With limited financing resources, the choice for city governments was either to provide very limited services for many people or full services for just a select few, leaving the poor underserved.

Mark Montgomery, Senior Associate at the Policy Research Division of the Population Council and Economics Professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, said a higher number of births than deaths -- or urban natural increase -- was largely responsible for urban sprawl in many low-income countries.  But, that was “a deeply disguised and overlooked demographic fact”.  Rather too many countries reacted to rural-to-urban migration by clearing slums.  “They create more poverty than they alleviate and they overlook humane alternatives, namely to reduce city population growth through sensitive applications of urban family planning policies,” he said, noting that, despite some recognition during today’s session of the merits of urban family planning:  “It’s a relatively new idea in the world of public policy and it’s time that it got attention.”

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.