Lankan professionals discuss global urbanization  challenges in low & middle income countries  


Dr. Locana Gunaratna leads drafting of international policy paper on subject 

Urbanization refers here to rural-urban migration taking place in the Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). The growth of urban population has been a subject of serious discussion in recent years at international level. In 2015, UN member states adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) among which SDG 11 was about sustainability of cities. In 2016, a ‘New Urban Agenda’ was endorsed by the UN General Assembly. These two events bind all countries to promote those recommendations for the safety, health and well being of all living in highly populated cities around the world.

Urbanization in the LMIC’s is causing much concern to the Governments of these countries and also internationally. Some countries experiencing overcrowded cities can be found in Brazil, India , Bangladesh, Kenya and many other LMICs. Though urbanization was associated with industrialization in the 19th Century Europe which often resulted in economic growth of those countries, such benefits are not seen in most LMIC’s.

It can be said that all citizens are entitled to live in a healthy environment, have access to clean water and sanitation and be safe regardless of their social and economic status. Unhealthy living conditions and unsafe environments can have a detrimental impact not only on adults and their economic output but more so on the growth and development of the younger populations living in overcrowded slum areas of the LMIC’s.

An International policy statement on Urbanization in the LMICS was prepared at the instance of the Inter-Academy Partnership (IAP) which is the apex body of science academies worldwide. The Statement was drafted by an international ‘Working Group’ of 18 subject experts drawn from 16 countries across the globe. Those experts were selected by the IAP from nominees made by member Science Academies in the LMICs as well as those in the industrialized countries. The serious question posed to them was whether the neglect of rural areas and the adversities of urbanization can be addressed and reduced or eliminated.

That Group worked on-line for two years under the chairmanship of a Sri Lankan expert – Dr Locana Gunaratna. In fact, the subject had originally been proposed by him, forwarded by the National Academy of Sciences Sri Lanka to the IAP in 2020 and accepted by them for serious consideration. This was a first for our Academy – the NASSL. The outcome of that effort – a draft Policy Statement was circulated by the IAP after close scrutiny to all member Science Academies worldwide.

It was endorsed by the required majority those Academies including those in some of the most industrialized countries. The Policy statement was then formally launched by the IAP at an international event held in Trieste, Italy on October 5, 2022 where Dr Gunaratna was invited to present a condensed version of the Statement.

The National Academy of Sciences Sri Lanka together with the Institute of Town Planners Sri Lanka hosted the local launch of this Policy Statement and a discussion on it. That event was held at the Auditorium of the Organization of Professional Association (OPA) on November 18. Many relevant and interested professionals and scientists were present at that occasion.

At this event too Dr Gunaratna presented a summarized version of the Statement and also briefly discussed some positive implications of this policy for Sri Lanka. The successful implementation of such a policy would surely benefit our country, but long-term planning and visionary leaders with unwavering political will are needed, he said.

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