Urbanization will play a key role in Sri Lanka’s way forward: Min Hakeem

Sep 30, 2015 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s future will be defined by the success of its management of urbanization, Rauff Hakeem, minister of City Planning and Water Supply said.

“Rapid urbanization creates challenges of ensuring that development is efficiently organized and its rewards equitably distributed,” Hakeem said at the launch of a World Bank report titled ‘Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia’ in Colombo, Tuesday.

“In today’s context the average urban dweller has to allocate more than half of individual income to meet the cost of shelter and transport,” he said.

“The rather haphazard ribbon development which characterizes most of Sri Lanka’s urban areas and the congestion, limited services and infrastructure in our cities show that the island is still struggling to implement the investments needed to effectively manage urban growth.”

In the case of Sri Lanka, data shows that as much as one-third of its entire population may be living in unrecognized urban settlements.

While statistics show only 14 percent of Sri Lankans live in cities and with municipal councils, when urban agglomeration units are considered about 47.1 percent of the people are urbanised, the report says.

The minister says that demands are rapidly increasing for all types of infrastructure and services such as water, sanitation, power and solid waste collection.

Sustainable city development will also need to entail alternative housing for urban poor as they are service providers for city dwellers, the industrial hub and the ports.

The Colombo city alone has over 50,000 families living in under-served settlements, slums and shanties.

“These settlements sprawl over almost a thousand acres and the under utilization of land is driving a distortion in real estate prices,”

“While there is a rapid building of high end housing in Colombo – the only type of housing that is financially viable with current land prices in Colombo – the middle class is effectively priced out of the city,”

“They continue to be pushed further and further into suburbs and elsewhere in the western province.”

He says urban development is sprawling across the country consuming with it the environment that makes the island so special.

“These settlements and increased prosperity are also driving increased vehicle ownership and in turn increases our road congestion,”

“And local authorities are struggling to cope with this unmanaged and rather uncontrolled expansion and that trajectory is clearly not sustainable.”

The success of urbanizing is the development of the capacity of the cities to cope with an ever increasing population.

This capacity improvement has to contend with the social, economic and physical infrastructure of the city, the minister says.