City development takes time

Even a light shower can flood the streets in Yangon.

Aside from the drainage, residents also face issues with power shortages, broken pavements, traffic jams, poor waste management, homelessness and stray dogs – to name but a few.

These urban woes are not specific to Yangon, but cities across the country are dealing with a mix of development challenges. With rises in population at a time of rapid economic growth, urban management is 30 to 40 years out of date, experts have pointed out.

According to the 2014 census there are 412 cities (including those classified as ‘small’) in Myanmar. From a population of 51 million, 15 million people live in urban areas – towns, and small and large cities. That is around 30 percent of the population.

More rural people are expected to move to the already-crowded cities, due to lack of opportunities in rural areas and a consolidation of economic activity in urban ones.

By 2050, seven million people are forecast to migrate to Myanmar’s cities, according to the World Bank’s Myanmar’s Urbanization report.

GDP growth has been consistently been strong over the past 10 years, particularly in construction and manufacturing, and poverty rates have decreased as a result. This rapid growth trajectory, however, brings with it new sets of planning and social problems.

One such problem is the rise of informal settlements, or large slum areas – as is the case in places like Manila or Mexico City, which are rife with crime and poverty. Problems can compound with overcrowding, especially with disease outbreaks during monsoon floods.

“If left unaddressed, these infrastructure needs will lead to further congestion, slums, pollution, and put a drag on opportunities for growth,” the report claimed.

An estimated US$146 billion is needed to meet the costs of new infrastructure projects in Myanmar’s cities until the year 2030, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated back in 2013.

Since then a number of initiatives have been implemented, but change is still slow.

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) system promises to yield results, with the government issuing a notification last year on the criteria for assessing partnerships with private organizations.

Tenders for the Yangon Elevated Expressway Project, for example, were submitted last year, with the winner expected to be announced sometime in the next few months.

The initiative will be included in the Ministry of Planning and Finance’s “Project Bank,” which instructs international investors on conditions for investment, and is expected to include urban and rural projects such as roads, railways and housing.

We’ve proposed the PPP system as a means to help develop urban infrastructure. The geographical features of one place are different from other places, but in Yangon we need to consider that more people will come here in the future, said U Thant Myint-U, founder of Yangon Heritage Trust.

Though there has been a focus transport and electricity, it’s still unclear how demands for housing can be addressed by the system.

“The government needs to think about urban planning and social development at the same time, encouraging people from the country to migrate with sufficient capital and qualifications,” U Thant Myint-U said.

“When economic growth is unable to provide higher living conditions for potential number of migrants, a class of poor urban residents appears and from this a population of squatters arises.

“As residents from the country migrate to urban centers, the rate of migration can increase so rapidly that it creates further inequality in the cities. If they don’t have adequate financing or education, the government has to struggle with providing services for a new class of urban poor,” said Department of Urban and Housing Development’s Deputy Director U Myint Naing.

U Thant Myint-U continued by focusing on the political dimensions of the problem: “Urban poverty is crucial for the country’s society. The gap between social classes is reflected in our urban development. If there are no basic reforms, it may weaken the democratic transition.”

Based on housing projects in other countries, the sole efforts being made by the government to develop housing for the public is not effective, said Ms Judy Baker.

“As the demand for housing is huge, it’s necessary to take into account the government budget. So, it’s impossible for the government to fulfill the need for housing. Action to facilitate land ownership, however, might be a more viable option for people and businesses to invest in building projects,” she said.

But it will take decades for the urban areas of Myanmar to develop. It is an exciting time to watch Myanmar’s cities taking shape, but it can be frustrating to see some of the problems persist, and even get worse – traffic jams, power cuts and flooding, for example.

Experts await the next round of announcements on urban development by the government, particularly as they affect Yangon and Mandalay. How the influx of migrants will impact and reshape these plans, only time will tell.

Source: Myanmar Times

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