Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Committee News

This week’s session of the International Development Select Committee concentrated on urbanisation and poverty, taking evidence from Paul Taylor and Michael Mutter from UN-Habitat.

The good news is that Target 7d of the MDGs – ‘By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers’ – has already been met; the economic growth of India and China alone has been enough to achieve this (another interesting example of Indian and Chinese growth affecting development statistics, and in some respects obscuring what’s happening elsewhere). Meanwhile, slums have continued to grow, and an extra 400 million people have become slum-dwellers. Paul Taylor believes that the MDG bar has been set too low. The target should be to improve the lives of one billion slum-dwellers, and tougher targets should be set to encourage governments to concentrate on slum-formation factors. There was some discussion of landuse planning (once fashionable but now somewhat sclerotic at the government level) and the need for funding of urban planning research, an area in which UK universities excel with little assistance from the government.

Are you cringing at the use of the term ‘slum-dwellers’? Malcolm Bruce questioned whether ‘slum’ is pejorative and lacking in dignity, but Taylor remarked that Habitat uses the term deliberately; it's unambiguous, attention-grabbing and accurate. Mutter commented that slum-dwellers are usually happy enough with the designation. Presumably they have more pressing concerns.

Taylor and Mutter gave a mixed report of DFID’s activities in this area, commenting that the UK is punching below its weight (unusually; as a committee member remarked, it’s more usual to be told that DFID is excelling). They pointed out, in courteous quango-ese, that DFID has not yet paid the £1 million contribution to core funding that was promised for last year, and that the Department has slipped dramatically in the Habitat funding league.

Finally, there was a rather alarming moment when the Labour MP for Preston, Mark Hendrik, asserted that ‘the obvious way to get rid of slums is to send the bulldozers in’. To nervous laughter, he commented that he’s ‘a novice’. That’s one word for it. Taylor and Mutter mounted a muscular defence of urbanisation as an unambiguous good; cities are motors of economic growth, disproportionately important contributors to GDP, and crucial in providing higher-order functions such as tertiary education and larger medical facilities. For those (such as Hendrik) who are concerned about population control, a more convincing argument might be that urbanisation, and its attendant increase in affluence, it almost always associated with a falling birth rate.

No comments:

Post a Comment