February 9, 2018 / 2:38 PM / 3 months ago

U.N. urges governments to steer migration away from buckling megacities

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Governments ought to make smaller cities more attractive to their citizens seeking better opportunities, the United Nations said on Friday, as that would reduce demands on overcrowded megacities.

More public sector jobs should go to secondary cities, and tax breaks could encourage the private sector to play its part, said Montira Horayangura Unakul, program officer for the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO.

“Migrants are attracted to beyond just economic aspects of target destinations - they’re looking at quality of life, social well-being, integration into places,” she said.

Job training, affordable housing and schools are important, as is greater investment in public transport, Unakul told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the World Urban Forum, the world’s biggest conference on urban issues.

Helping smaller cities also benefits countries by allowing migrants to stay in touch with family in rural areas, and by spreading economic growth more evenly, Unakul said.

About 4 billion of the world’s 7.4 billion people live in urban areas, the World Bank says. By 2045 it expects that to rise to 6 billion.

Regions such as Asia-Pacific are urbanizing fast. More than half of its population now lives in urban areas, the U.N. says - that will climb to two-thirds by 2050.

But inequality is rampant in numerous Asia-Pacific cities, and many have poor infrastructure.

About 1.5 billion people in Asia-Pacific lack basic sanitation services, for instance, while 250 million people live in slums, according to the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

Migrants - particularly those who speak a different language or who are from other ethnic groups - can face discrimination causing them to miss out on economic opportunities, said Ashish Kumar, a project officer at UNESCO.

Women migrants often lack access to healthcare services, particularly contraception, and steer clear of clinics due to privacy fears, said Kumar, who has researched internal migration in Southeast Asia.

Kumar said internal migrants, when compared to migrants who cross borders, are typically overlooked by politicians. On top of that, internal migrants are often unpopular.

“When you have infrastructure which is breaking down, your roads are crowded ... the tendency often is to blame migrants to urban centers for many of the problems which are just inherent in being a city,” Kumar told delegates.

Reporting by Michael Taylor, Editing by Robert Carmichael.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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