WB calls for better policies amid rapid urbanization in PH

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The Philippines should make its cities more competitive, inclusive and better governed to support the rapid increase in the number of Filipinos living in urban areas today, a joint study by the government and the World Bank said.

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Released on Monday, the “Philippines Urbanization Review: Fostering Competitive, Sustainable and Inclusive Cities” report said the Philippines is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in East Asia but it is at a critical juncture.

About 45 percent of Filipinos live in urban areas today, the report added.

This number is expected to more than double by 2050, to 102 million, generating higher demand for housing, basic services, transportation and jobs.

Currently, Philippine cities generate more than 70 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, more than half of it from Metro Manila (National Capital Region or NCR) alone, it said.

The report added that country’s seven largest cities–NCR, Metro Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos and Zamboanga–provide 54 percent of formal jobs in the country.

But inadequate investments in urban infrastructure, it said, have led to traffic congestion, lack of basic services and rising risk from natural hazards.

These factors undermine efficiency of the city network and exacerbates economic and social inequalities, the report pointed out.

It called for more affordable mass transport, such as metro rail transit and bus rapid transit systems, to raise productivity and improve the welfare of commuters.

The report recommends that the government simplify licensing requirements to attract more investment, improve infrastructure, focus on affordable housing and the delivery of basic services and encourage poor children to finish secondary education for better job opportunities.

It said decisions made now will affect how cities grow and how people benefit from urbanization through economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said central to development is the role of cities.
“Cities drive growth and are providers of knowledge and innovation. To enable cities to perform that role, we are investing heavily on infrastructure and human capital or health and education,” NEDA Undersecretary Rolando Tungpalan said.

The government targets to spend P847 billion on infrastructure development this year, covering projects in all regions, including small-, medium- and large-scale ventures.

In the six years to 2022, the government intends to spend P8.4 trillion on infrastructure.

Mara Warwick, World Bank country director, said city competitiveness is an important part of successful urbanization, because it creates jobs, raises productivity and increases people’s wages.

“But that is not enough. Cities need to be inclusive and sustainable. They should have good land use management and strong institutions,” she added.

Meanwhile, strong institutions and good governance are important for ensuring better management of cities, delivery of social services and a good environment for job creation, according to Abhas Jha, a World Bank Practice Manager for Urban and Disaster Risk Management for East Asia and the Pacific.

“A good starting point for this policy conversation can be a comprehensive national urban policy that establishes a lead agency for urban development and housing, and clearly defines the roles of national and local governments,” Jha said.

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