By 2030, the number of people living in slums will double to two billion. Yet poverty is only one of the challenges faced by developing countries experiencing rapid urbanization; they also face the loss of arable land, pollution and the environmental hazards of climate change. World-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs has sought to address these problems through the Millennium Cities Initiative of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Similar to the Millennium Villages Project, the Millennium Cities Initiative assists select sub-Saharan African cities in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015. In an interview with the Journal's Rebecca Chao, Sachs discusses the many facets of urban growth in developing countries. (1)
Journal of International Affairs: Based on your experience working on separate millennium development initiatives for both rural villages and cities, how are rural and urban challenges distinct?
Jeffrey Sachs: In rural areas, the challenges are to extend basic services-healthcare, education, electricity--and to raise agricultural productivity, since agriculture is the primary vocation of rural dwellers. The upside of working in rural areas is that you have a really good sense of the challenges, which are usually to help impoverished, small-land-holding subsistence farmers become part of the commercial economy. These farmers and their families can experience big increases in levels of income, health, access to education and health services when given basic technologies and organizational assistance to establish farmer-based cooperatives, which helps them become part of regional, national and international supply chains. This is happening in the Millennium Villages with a big added push from information technology, especially phones and mobile broadband. We are seeing a very exciting upgrade in rural life in many places, though not everywhere, as mobile banking, for example, comes onto the scene.
Now when it comes to cities, the challenges are much more complicated because there is no single economic base in a city. The definition of almost any urban economy is that it is a diversified set of manufacturing and service sectors. So in the Millennium cities, the challenge isn't a relatively straightforward question of upgrading agriculture as it might be in the villages. On the other hand, by virtue of the density of an urban setting, reaching people with public services...