Urban disasters spotlight strain on Asian cities

Deadly floods, power blackouts and traffic gridlock -- many of Asia's biggest cities are buckling under the strain of rapid economic development, extreme weather and an exodus from the countryside.

Poor strategic planning, paltry investment in infrastructure and a lack of political will have also left the region's overcrowded metropolises highly vulnerable to the pressures of climate change, experts say.

Over the past year Bangkok and Manila have been hit by the most devastating floods in decades, while India recently suffered the world's worst-ever power blackout due to surging demand from industry, homes and offices.

It is a situation that is increasingly out of step with growing affluence in Asia, where millions of people escape from poverty every year but face a return to third-world conditions when disaster strikes.

Many Asian cities are "lagging behind in infrastructure provision, whether we talk about sewers, roads or electricity supplies," said Professor Sun Sheng Han, an urban planning expert at Australia's University of Melbourne.

At the heart of the problem lies a lack of vision in a region where urban development policies reflect a mixture of "political goals and economic ambitions," he told AFP.

In the Thai capital Bangkok, years of aggressive groundwater extraction to meet the growing needs of its factories and 12 million inhabitants have taken a heavy toll.

Yet despite warnings the city -- built on swampland and slowly sinking -- risks being below sea level in half a century from now, a building boom shows no sign of abating with apartment towers mushrooming around the city.

Rapid urbanisation that blocks natural waterways and neglected drainage systems are also seen as major factors behind the deadly floods that have battered the Philippine capital Manila this month.

On the outskirts of Manila, vital forested areas have been destroyed to make way for housing developments catering to growing middle and upper classes.

Within the city, squatters -- attracted by economic opportunities -- often build shanties on river banks, storm drains and canals, dumping garbage and impeding the flow of waterways.

But perhaps nowhere are the challenges more stark than in India, where a two-day power blackout across half the country last month left more than 600 million people without supplies as high demand overwhelmed the grid.

Yet even now, only 30 percent of India's 1.2-billion population live in cities, far lower than the 50.6 percent in China or the 70-80 percent in developed countries, according to a UN report released last year.

It forecasts India's urban population will grow by 60 percent from its current level of 377 million, to 606 million, by 2030.

As air conditioners, microwave ovens, washing machines and other electrical items become increasingly popular with the country's burgeoning middle class, the strains on the power sector are expected to increase.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute research centre, India also needs 350-400 kilometres (around 250 miles) of new metros and subways a year and 19,000-25,000 kilometres of roads.

Mumbai -- with 20,000 inhabitants per square kilometre -- is one of the world's most densely populated cities.

Its packed suburban trains are estimated to carry seven million people every day, and each year more than 3,000 people are killed on the railway network, sometimes falling from open doors or hit while crossing the tracks.

"The rush hour is the biggest issue. There are times it's so crowded, it's difficult to breathe," said Sudhir Gadgil, 62, an office assistant in Mumbai's southern business district, whose commute to work by train takes 1.5 hours.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, the capital Dhaka is facing the worst transport infrastructure problems in its history.

Soon after taking over in January 2009, the government promised to tackle the crisis with an array of ambitious rail, bus and road projects, but most are still in the design stage.

"Dhaka already is a moribund city. It's dying fast and I see no hope how we can save it," said Shamsul Haq, the country's top transport expert and a professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Traffic jams are by no means unique to Dhaka, however, and in many teeming cities the prospect of abandoning city life altogether is becoming increasingly appealing for some frustrated residents.

In Jakarta, ranked bottom of 23 cities in Frost & Sullivan's 2011 global commuter satisfaction survey, experts predict that given its ageing bus network and lack of train system, the capital will reach total gridlock by 2014.

"If it doesn't change in the next five years, I'm moving to Bali for a more peaceful life," freelance writer Dian Agustino told AFP in one of the city's shopping malls.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Philippine economic growth slows to three-year low
    Philippine economic growth slows to three-year low

    Philippine economic growth in the first quarter slowed to a three-year low of 5.2 percent, well below forecasts, due to lethargic government spending and weak exports, officials said Thursday. "While growth in the private sector remains robust, the slower than programmed pace of public spending, particularly the decline in public construction, has slowed down the overall growth of the economy," Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told reporters. "Exports were the other source of the …

  • EM ASIA FX-Won near 2-month low on plunging yen, peso pares gains as growth weakens

    * S.Korea intervention spotted, won hits 7-year high vs yen * Philippine peso briefly weaker after Q1 growth disappoints (Adds text, updates prices) By Jongwoo Cheon SEOUL, May 28 (Reuters) - South Korea's ... …

  • Britain's tied visa rules fuel abuse of live-in maids, nannies

    By Katie Nguyen LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Susi, a single mother from the Philippines, left for a job in Qatar, she convinced herself it was a sacrifice worth making for her children at home. For more than a year, Susi's sacrifice involved waking before dawn and working past midnight, cooking, cleaning and looking after a Qatari family. Conditions deteriorated when Susi was brought to Britain by her boss. …

  • SE Asia Stocks - Philippines at four-month low after Q1 GDP miss

    BANGKOK, May 28 (Reuters) - Philippine shares hit a more than four-month low on Thursday after economic growth in the first quarter was slower than expected, while Thai stocks retreated after disappointing ... …

  • Philippine economic growth slows to 5.2 percent in 1Q

    Sluggish government spending slowed Philippine economic growth in the first quarter of this year, officials said Thursday. The country's gross domestic product grew by 5.2 percent in the first quarter, ... …

  • PSE to sell Makati and Ortigas offices
    PSE to sell Makati and Ortigas offices

    Set to move to a unified headquarters in Bonifacio Global City in 2016, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) has issued plans to sell their offices in Makati and Ortigas. PSE President Hans Sicat issued that PSE means to sell the offices, but that they may also opt to rent them out instead. …

  • ‘Inland areas could be exposed to tsunami-like waves’
    ‘Inland areas could be exposed to tsunami-like waves’

    While strong earthquakes cause tsunamis in coastal areas, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) warned that inland areas could also be exposed to tsunami-like waves, or seiche, if located near or around bodies of water. In a recent earthquake awareness seminar in Muntinlupa, Phivolcs supervising science research specialist Joan Salcedo explained that a seiche is a large wave similar to a tsunami, triggered by strong ground shaking from an earthquake or volcanic …

  • China gives ‘gentle reminder’ to Phl, warns small nations
    China gives ‘gentle reminder’ to Phl, warns small nations

    China gave the Philippines a “gentle reminder” last Tuesday that Beijing will not bully small countries but warned these nations not to make trouble willfully and endlessly. “Here is a gentle reminder to the Philippines: China will not bully small countries, meanwhile, small countries shall not make trouble willfully and endlessly. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that China would continue to build other civilian facilities on relevant maritime features in the disputed Spratly Islands …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options