Strengthening urban rural connections is essential for building resilient infrastructure, claims Rajib Shaw. However, as examples from Japan show, implementation is often hindered by administrative issues, calling for innovations in governance and communications to make urban rural partnerships a reality.
The urban and rural regions exist as interdependent administrative entities connected through various spatial and sectoral flows of people, money, and commodities, both natural as well as manufactured. They have different and often complementary assets which are integrated through a broad set of linkages. The exponentially increasing flow of people, capital, goods, services, technology, lifestyle, and ideas between urban and rural areas is testament to their growing spatial and sectoral interdependence.
With growing demands of critical resources (like food, energy, and water) in urban areas, the mounting unsustainable pressures are pushing the natural systems at all scales towards critical thresholds and undermining the resilience of both urban and rural systems in the face of environmental shocks. The form and nature of interlinkage between urban and rural regions, commonly understood as urban-rural continuum, are projected to get severely constrained under climate change scenarios and result not only in differential developmental patterns but also intensified risks and vulnerabilities.
Recognition in Global Policy
The importance of urban-rural linkages has been recognised in UN policy outcomes at the global level, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 11 on ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ lays an emphasis on the National Urban Policies and Regional Development Plans to achieve the harmonious development between sectors of sustainability and advocates for positive economic, social, and environmental links between urban, peri-urban, and rural areas.
Urban-rural linkages also contribute to sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12) and can prove very vital in achieving the goals on ‘poverty eradication and ending hunger’ (SDG 2) that put stress on increasing the access to basic services by the poor and vulnerable, on enhanced investments in rural infrastructures, sustainable food production systems, and appropriate measures for limiting food price volatility under climate change.
At the same time, actions under SDG 9, ‘building resilient infrastructure and promoting innovation’, which encourages building sustainable and resilient infrastructures at regional and trans-border scale, would have potentials to create feedbacks into the urban-rural interactions and to reduce interrelated vulnerabilities between urban and rural settlements.
The goals on ‘conservation and protection of ecosystems’ (SDG 15) and ‘halting the degradation of natural areas’ would also require a relook into the conventional flows of natural resources into the urban-rural linkages, which essentially necessitate a shift in the production and consumption patterns in the urban-rural regions.
In the New Urban Agenda, urban rural partnership is considered essential, and a recent publication of UN Habitat has mentioned that strengthening urban-rural Linkages is one way of implementing the New Urban Agenda and making sure no-one is left behind.
Where Is the Challenge?
In spite of policy and academic recognition, the urban rural partnership has not yet been practiced as widely as it would have been desired. The challenge is administrative and resource distribution. In most countries, the urban financial resources are based on city budget and tax system of the city residents. This restricts the budget to be used for restoring maintaining resources in the rural areas, as they come under a separate jurisdiction. Mindsets of residents as well as of policy makers become an obstacle for using taxpayers’ money beyond city boundaries.
Different approaches are needed to make the concept of urban rural partnerships a reality. The approaches can be summarised under three broad headings as follow:
Governance and administrative process is the key: Specific legislative provisions are needed to allocate urban budget for rural resource conservation. A classic example is found in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture: here, a specific tax is paid by city residents that is dedicated to restoration of forest and water systems in the upstream area, where the water supply for the prefecture is located. This tax has been in practice for almost 15 years.
A very transparent and participatory mechanism has been established, where residents can be part of the monitoring committee, and all the funding mechanism and its expenses can be seen online by the prefecture residents. The fund is utilised for the maintaining the forest ecosystem and the water reservoir in the upstream area, which is outside the prefecture boundary.
© Rajib Shaw
Mindset change through education and awareness of communities: Although we do not feel the importance of urban rural partnership, the hardship is felt when the supply chain is stopped or interrupted due to disasters (both stress and shocks) as well as other human induced interruptions. For example, in recent years, urban water stress has been becoming a major problem in many parts of the world, and during summer, there is severe water shortage reported in many cities.
The nearby dams, reservoirs, or water bodies – usually located outside the urban territory – only get attention when there is a water scarcity, and the issue is often forgotten after monsoon arrives after the summer. As climate change and its impacts will aggravate this problem, we need to establish constant awareness and care for our resources in the rural areas.
Technology can make urban rural partnership stronger: With new technologies, like drones, the Internet of Things (IOT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), block chain etc., the urban rural digital divide needs to be broken and the partnership strengthened. Rural residents deserve the same kind of services (health, education etc.) as the urban areas, and the new technologies can make a real breakthrough, as promised by the Japanese Government’s concept of Society 5.0.
All in all, strong urban rural partnerships make a resilient society.