BANGKOK, Feb 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As millions of
people pour into East Asia's cities each year, the region's
governments face the pressing task of easing the enormous strain
on resources and infrastructure, and limiting residents'
exposure to disasters and climate change risks.
"In future, two out of every three people will live in a
city," said Peter King, a Bangkok-based policy advisor for the
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES).
"We have a choice to make now: do we want the cities to be
pleasant, healthy, satisfying and vibrant places to live or do
we allow the extra millions of people flocking to cities across
the world to occupy vulnerable, dirty, dangerous slums,
surrounded by the walled, guarded residences of the rich?" he
said on the eve of a conference in northern Thailand to discuss
the challenge in East Asia.
The two-day meeting will bring together some 200 experts
from national and regional governments and academia, to explore
solutions to issues such as reducing waste, partnering with the
private sector on green projects, and strategies to achieve the
U.N.-led Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 17 global goals, launched last year, cover many things
relevant to city dwellers, such as access to affordable and
clean energy, decent work and economic growth. But one
specifically calls for "sustainable cities and communities" that
are inclusive, safe and resilient.
Saroj Srisai, head of environment at the ASEAN Secretariat,
which coordinates the 10-nation Southeast Asia bloc and is one
of the conference organisers, said implementing the SDGs
"requires full cooperation among national government agencies,
local authorities and development partners, which needs to be
"We are learning good lessons from Japan's experience
dealing with urbanisation since the 1950s, especially in terms
of balancing social and environmental concerns and the economy,"
he added in emailed comments.
Southern Japan's Kitakyushu City, for example, will showcase
at the conference how it has overcome severe industrial
pollution, while Toyama in central Japan has embarked on public
transport planning to revitalise the city with an ageing
population - a challenge Thailand is predicted to face in the
King said the conference should focus on translating global
aims like the SDGs into local action, by setting targets and
commitments at all levels of government and initiating
partnerships with a wide range of organisations.
Studies have shown that East Asia, home to an estimated 2.2
billion people, is urbanising rapidly, fuelled mainly by
migration inside countries.
Almost 200 million people moved from rural to urban areas in
East Asia between 2000 and 2010, a figure equal to the world's
sixth-largest country, according to a 2015 World Bank report.
East Asia's urban areas include eight "megacities" with
populations of over 10 million; 123 large cities of between 1
million and 10 million people; and 738 medium and small cities
with 100,000 to 1 million people, shows the report, which
analysed satellite imagery and population models to chart
Experts have made links between urbanisation and income
growth, pointing to increased economic output per capita as the
percentage of people living in urban areas has risen.
Yet urbanisation also tends to put a strain on resources as
more people compete for space, jobs, water and energy. Badly
planned, it can result in worsening pollution, waste and
inequality, and higher exposure to disaster and climate risks.
Already the wider Asia-Pacific region is the most
disaster-hit in the world, with over 2 million deaths from
earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and other hazards between 1970 and
2014 - more than half of global fatalities during that period.
Despite its fast growth, only 36 percent of East Asia's
population currently lives in urban areas, so the phenomenon of
people moving to cities is likely to continue in the region for
decades to come, the World Bank said.
IGES's King noted that much of the developed world,
including Europe, North America and Australia, has already made
the transition - so the tens of millions of people shifting to
cities in the next few decades will be concentrated in Asia.
"East Asia also has some of the largest slum settlements in
the world, so there is already a huge backlog of infrastructure
and proper planning, exacerbated in future by the challenges of
adapting to climate change and providing energy access for all,"
(Reporting By Thin Lei Win, editing by Megan Rowling; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.