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Vancouver, 21 Jun 06
Delegates at the Third Session of the World Urban Forum listened in rapt silence on Wednesday as speakers from Kabul and Vancouver presented a picture of two cities at opposite sides of the world and opposite ends of the development.

From post-war reconstruction and rebuilding in Kabul, to Vancouver's cutting-edge urban technology, the presentations were designed to show that despite the huge gulf between them there are still common ways of moving ahead through partnerships involving their residents.

At a plenary meeting moderated by Katherine Sierra, Vice-President and Network Head, Infrastructure, at the World Bank in Washington DC, introduced Afghanistan 's Minister of Urban Development, Mr. Mohammad Yusuf Pashtun, and Ms. Pat Jacobsen, Chief Executive Officer of Translink, Canada, with a new warning for humanity that the urban population of the world would double in the next 30 years to four billion people.

"These two billion new urban inhabitants will require the equivalent of planning, financing, and servicing facilities for a new city of 1 million people every week for the next 30 years," Ms. Sierra said. "However these will not be nicely planned, new cities at all, but rather, without smart interventions, the unplanned and unrecorded expansion of existing slum settlements – poorly located with new ghettoes, often on the urban periphery. Poverty will deepen, and despair will grow."

Already, said Mr. Pushtun this was happening in the wartime ruins of Afghanistan's cities. After 25 years of war, Afghanistan 's cities had been destroyed, many of them literally flattened on a scale unimaginable to people outside the country. He characterised the country's urban landscape as being in a severe state of post-conflict breakdown: more than 70 percent of all urban infrastructure had been totally destroyed, with the remaining 30 percent in poor condition.

At the same time, between 1978 and 2002 the urban populations had grown from 1.5 million to over five million people. He also said a further 5 million refugees had returned, and that with internally displaced people now streaming back to towns and cities, the country was experiencing a 5 percent urban growth rate. They were mainly starting life in new slums and mushrooming informal settlements.

"Afghanistan also faces rapid rural to urban migration, the absence of effective land management policies, and acute shortages of technical human capacities at the planning and municipal levels," he said. "The situation could not be better described than as a real urban crisis posing real urban problems."

Stating that the presence of a large Afghan government delegation at the World Urban Forum in Vancouver this year, as well as in Barcelona two years ago signalled that Afghanistan had returned to the international fold, the country needed partnerships for development to get the National Urban Programme underway urgently. Thanking UN-HABITAT, the World Bank, USAID, the European Union and India, among others for their support, he warned the audience that Afghanistan still had an average life expectance of just 43 years, that traditions still denied women their full potential, that warlords and drug traders remained a threat, and that the country's democratic structures were desperately weak. The urban crisis, he said in conclusion, should also be seen by Afghanistan's political and business partners as an opportunity for national and international investment, a reservoir of cheap skilled and unskilled labour, a country with cheap local construction materials, and a place where interventions and new partnerships would generate job opportunities for millions of people.

In contrast to the Afghan Minister, Ms. Jacobsen explained how Vancouver used partnerships for to fund its transport infrastructure of the modern Pacific gateway city. She gave the example of a new US$5 million rail service to link Vancouver with its neighbouring American city of Seattle to the south. Partnerships were being used to help find the funding.

In the 1960s and 1970s, she said the city of Vancouver was funding its public transport system mainly from the public sector. Today, over 70 percent of this funding was coming in from user fees and fuel taxes. A new bridge being planned for the city would be funded by toll fees. She said that 1.2 billion Canadian dollars of private sector capital had been used to build new infrastructure, and that Translink was driven to involve its stakeholders in planning city transport.

In changing the way public transport infrastructure is funded, Ms. Jacobsen said the main problems included the fact that public officials were not used to working with the private sector, that they often lacked sufficient skills, and that both sides had different perceptions of each other. Nevertheless the benefits of these new partnerships, she added, had paid off enormously, and that their biggest supporters were their stakeholders – the users of the public transport system.

Taking the floor in a brief intervention from what he called the perspective of a small nation, Mr. Robert Williams, the Deputy Mayor of Georgetown Guyana, said that new partnerships were not an option for his city, but a requirement in this globalising world.

He said policies made in far away in places like Washington DC in the terrorism crackdown or on global warming, had financial costs and implications for small countries. New partnerships simply had to be formed to manage cities better because governments and municipalities no longer had the capacity or the financial means to cope with increasing crime and other problems.

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