Spreading Slums May Boost Extremism, Says U.N. Agency
BARCELONA Extremism is likely to flourish in the world's rapidly spreading slums if governments do not tackle the poverty that fuels it, a senior United Nations official said at the start of a forum on urban life this week.
U.N.-Habitat Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka issued the warning before a report due to be launched by her agency on Tuesday, "The State of the World's Cities."
The number of slum dwellers will double to nearly 2 billion by 2030. Cities overall will grow at a similarly explosive rate, Tibaijuka said, reaching nearly 5 billion people by 2030 from 2.9 billion in 2001.
The growth of cities will be partly due to immigration, which could exacerbate urban tensions if no efforts were made to smooth integration, she said.
"The risks are that we see more (cultural) differences; we are bound to see more extremism because of desperation," she said at the start of the World Urban Forum. "The poor are not terrorists, but the hopelessness in which people find themselves can create conducive conditions for criminals to manipulate the situation," she added.
Tibaijuka hopes the report will encourage governments to invest in slums and work on solutions to the simmering problems.
"These crises are processes, not events," she said.
Tibaijuka also said world trade rules needed to take more account of the needs of the poor and called for tight regulation of privatized companies providing basic services like water or refuse collection.
Economics for the Weak
As well as highlighting a widening rich-poor gap, the "State of the World's Cities" report attacked the argument that unfettered trade is a sure route to wider developing-world prosperity and warned of a "race to the bottom" as companies seeking cheaper labor shift capital and jobs across borders.
Tibaijuka said economists needed to ensure they based their economic policy on basic moral values.
"You cannot develop peace and prosperity on the rules of the strong.... The weak are embroiled in surviving; there is no capacity for real, serious engagement," Tibaijuka said.
The report also warned that private companies providing basic services could be torn between shareholders' demands for profits and the needs of impoverished slum dwellers. Tibaijuka called for firm controls.
"We need the private sector ... (but) privatization without regulatory capacity is corruption. If you privatize where there is no regulation, either you don't know what you are doing or there are ulterior motives," she said.
Praful Patel, head of the World Bank delegation to the World Urban Forum, defended the free trade policies that the global lender often advocates.
"Our studies indicate a different kind of finding. There are specific cases of trade liberalization that hurt ... countries that did not follow through," he said. "However, where taken to the full length, it always works."
Many of the world's least developed regions, where much of the urban growth will take place, focus more on boosting economies to help citizens climb out of poverty than halting pollution. Environmental concern is considered a luxury the poor cannot afford, Tibaijuka said.
"Poverty is the biggest polluter. If you go into slums, these are places where solid waste, waste water, you name it, diseases are running rampant. In pursuit of protecting the environment, we must first protect the people," she said.
On a positive note, the World Urban Forum gave an award to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri for rebuilding the ruins of Lebanon after a devastating civil war.