A UN-HABITAT report launched today lauds multiculturalism as an urban phenomenon that should be celebrated, not feared. The State of the World's Cities Report 2004/2005 maintains that multiculturalism enhances the fabric of societies and brings colour and vibrancy to every city it touches.
The State of the World's Cities Report 200/2005 shows that there are approximately 175 million documented international migrants worldwide and the flow of humanity into the world's cities is fuelling a new multiculturalism that has the potential to broaden the cultural and ethnic dimensions of cities. However, it notes that some cities have been unable to cope with multiculturalism, which has generated increasing xenophobia and ethnic tensions. It therefore calls on local governments to help create harmonious and inclusive multicultural cities by combating xenophobic ideologies and anti-immigration policies.
According to the report, the more developed economies attract most of the international migrants (77 million), followed by the transition economies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics (33 million), Asia and the Pacific (23 million) and the Middle East and North Africa (21 million).
In many cities, lack of affordable housing and discriminatory practices force the newcomers to live spatially segregated lives in ghettos where they suffer labour exploitation, social exclusion and violence. This is unfortunate, says the report, because immigrants make important economic contributions, not only to the urban economies of the host countries, but also to the countries that they leave behind. Remittances back home are second only to oil in terms of international monetary flows, providing an important and reliable source of foreign exchange finance. In 2003, for example, the Indian Diaspora sent back US$ 15 billion, exceeding the revenues generated by the country's software industry, the report says.
In his foreword, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that policy-makers need to plan for “cities of difference” that are open to all and exclude none, and which are able to capitalize on the benefits of a multicultural existence. This requires the engagement of all non-governmental and community stakeholders, on the basis of legislation that guarantees citizens' right to the city, and judicial systems that enforce those rights.
On her part, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka said that the report provided valuable information on progress made in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and towards the realization of the Millennium Development Goals and Targets on slums, water and sanitation.
“The report shows how poverty is increasing in many cities and how this is partly an outcome of the uneven costs and benefits of economic globalization. In addition, the report shows how urban poverty has been increasingly concentrated in particular neighbourhoods that have generally become the habitats of the urban poor and minority groups: racial minorities in some societies, international immigrant groups in others,” she said.
According to the report, “the fruits of globalization”, which include economic growth, rising incomes and improvements in the quality of life, were rapidly being offset by the negative aspects of rapid urbanization: increased poverty and greater inequality.
The last two decades have witnessed a transformation of the global economy, which has led to vast economic, social and political realignments in many countries and cities. The trend towards open markets has enriched some countries and cities tremendously, while others have suffered greatly, says the report. World trade in this period has grown from about US$ 580 billion in 1980 to a projected US$6.3 trillion in 2004, an eleven-fold increase. Flows of capital, labour, technology and information have also increased tremendously, and have transformed the role of cities in a globalizing world.
The UN-HABITAT report predicts that the world's urban population will grow from 2.86 billion in 2000 to 4.98 billion by 2030. It further reveals that urban-based economic activities account for more than 50 per cent of GDP in all countries, and up to 80 per cent in more urbanized countries in Latin America and Europe .
The State of the World's Cities Report 2004/2005 notes that one of the regions that seems to have benefited the most from the fruits of globalization is Asia and the Pacific. During the early 1970s, more than half the population of the Asia and the Pacific region was defined as poor; average life expectancy was 48 years and only 40 per cent of the adult population was literate. Today the percentage of poor people has decreased to about one-fourth of the total population; life expectancy has increased to 65 years and about 70 per cent of adults are literate. This unprecedented decline in poverty in Asia and the Pacific region has been described as “one of the largest decreases in mass poverty in human history”. Of all the world's regions, developed and developing, Asia also ranks lowest in almost all types of crime, according to the report.