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World Bank book on urban crisis in India

World Bank VP Leautier launches a book on managing the urbanisation crisis in developing countries, reports Ami Dalal.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2006 16:54 IST
Ami Dalal
Ami Dalal

"Indian cities have great potential," declared Frannie Léautier, Vice President of the World Bank Institute.

"They are able to concentrate idea, innovation, and investment in one location," she continued, "and have an unusual ability to recycle."

As the editor of a collaborative World Bank study, Léautier launched How Globalization Changes Cities and What Local Governments Can Do About It at the sixth conference of the three-day Delhi Sustainable Development Summit.

According to Léautier, India's burgeoning urban populations are headed for a crisis. The ability for its cities to accommodate persistent migration from rural areas is becoming more and more compromised.

"If India is to grow in a sustainable way," spoke Léautier, "it is important how rural cities interface with urban cities."

India and many developing nations have been urbanising at an incredible rate. When cities are unable to accommodate their populations, their inhabitants suffer.

Health and education facilities become overburdened, and impoverished neighbourhoods suffer from inadequate energy and waste collection services.

Local governments can find innovative methods to deal with infrastructure challenges. Though India's knack at recycling is correlated with poverty, Léautier suggested that local governments can find "industry solutions to turn this into sustainable waste collection."

The inspiration behind the book came from colleague Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of Government Economic Service of the United Kingdom. Léautier described how she would meet with Sir Nicholas on Friday mornings and "complain that I had gone into management and was vegetating because I was not exercising my intellectual capabilities."

Out of this dialogue sprung the idea for amassing a detailed report on urban issues and the role globalisation is playing in how cities are managed.

Out of 412 cities studied, ten cities were from India. Among these were Bangalore, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, and Lucknow.

NASSCOM president Kiran Karnik supported Léautier's emphasis on the responsibility of local governments and citizens to transform urban areas.

"Sustainability is not only about science and technology," declared Karnik, "we also need to look at social, economic, and cultural frameworks."

Karnikgave the example of the mixed-success of bio-gas plants in Gujarat. Though they were commercially successful, the plants harmed poor populations who lived on cattle dung and found their source of fuel disappearing.

Karnik warned that commercialisation and technology could create problems for those who are on the verge of destitution. "If India were to have the living standards of the US the globe would cease to exist," he said, "it is just not sustainable."

With due date for the UN Millennium Development Goals only ten years away, renowned leaders in policy-making have converged in New Delhi for the Summit to discuss alarming challenges to energy access, climate change, safe drinking water, and proper sanitation.

"We need to take a holistic view to the crisis and look at who gains and who loses by our decisions," Karnik reminded the panel.

Professor Jeffrey D Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute; Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric (USA); Professor Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program; and HE Ryutaro Hashimoto, former Prime Minister of Japan were among keynote speakers at the summit.

First Published: Feb 06, 2006 13:26 IST