By: Kirsty Gray
The prevailing image of extreme poverty is a rural one. We are regularly exposed to images of farmers struggling with droughts or children walking miles each day to collect water for their families. Since the 70s, the development community has created ambitious village-level programmes to address and raise awareness of rural poverty (the Millennium Villages Project is a prime example). But as 66 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, are we doing enough to address urban poverty too?
The global community has halved extreme poverty since 2000 and calls are growing to commit to eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. Evidence from the UN and the World Bank suggests this is indeed possible. However, sustaining this ambitious target requires rethinking the way we ‘do’ development. Without a climate-sensitive, ‘urban-sensitive’ approach, eliminating extreme poverty will not be sustainable.
To eradicate extreme poverty permanently, we need to recognise the links between climate change and increased vulnerability for the world’s poorest people. We need to reach zero net emissions in tandem with reducing poverty. This ‘zero-zero’ sum game is being played out on an increasingly urbanised playing field.
Reality check for resilience
For urban areas to sustain poverty reduction, we need to ensure that they are ‘resilient’ to varied shocks and stresses. This is because towns and cities are disproportionately situated in places highly exposed to the impacts of climate change such as coast lines and along rivers. But, as I have found from working on monitoring resilience, academics and practitioners have not yet reached a consensus on how to measure and define this oft-cited but much-debated term.
The private sector and resilience
Of course, we cannot solely rely on governments to achieve zero-zero in cities. One audience member explained the critical importance of considering a robust engagement with the private sector in our bid to build resilient cities. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operating at a more local scale have been more responsive on resilience issues until now. To engage the larger players, there will need to be a combination of regulatory pressure and an emphasis on ‘resilience dividends’ – resilience not as a cost, but a sustainable means of creating jobs and growing the economy.
Towards a resilient, zero-zero future
Achieving zero poverty zero emissions will only be possible if we can improve urban resilience. As research in Peru’s capital Lima demonstrates, recurring environmental disasters deplete livelihoods and assets, creating urban ‘risk traps’; each one makes it harder to recover from the next.
The challenges of poverty, climate change, and urbanisation are intrinsically intertwined – it is not possible to solve one without an in-depth understanding of the other two. Achieving low-carbon growth will prove a key part of the poverty eradication agenda, as will enhancing urban resilience.