Today, just over 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities and it is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be approximately six billion urban dwellers; attracted by the lure of jobs and a better standard of living.
Growing urbanization has created challenges for governments and officials, who must strike a sustainable balance between economic growth and urban growth and development.
These and other developmental issues prompted the United Nations in 1986 to declare the first Monday in October each year as World Habitat Day, with the aim of highlighting the state of cities and towns and the issues surrounding human settlement.
This year, World Habitat Day highlights “Cities and Climate Change” which is considered to be one of the foremost development challenges of the 21st century.
Many scientists believe that climate change results mainly from the release of increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases into the atmosphere.
Studies show that a city with one million or more dwellers can have a mean annual temperature between one and three degrees Celsius warmer than surrounding areas. Carbon dioxide emissions create a greenhouse effect, letting in light but trapping heat, especially in urban areas.
Cities, while contributing to Climate Change are also most vulnerable to the many risks associated with climate change. They include increases in extreme weather events such as heavy rainstorms, the potential for flooding, hurricanes and prolonged periods of drought.
Changing rainfall patterns may increase soil erosion, affecting water availability and quality; while drier soils will change the yield of crops, thereby causing food shortage, hunger and poverty. Another major consequence of climate change is the continuing rise in sea levels which has potentially devastating consequences for many cities as well as small island states, like Jamaica. This is so because most of our towns and cities and by extension the world’s population are located along river estuaries and seaside ports.
Changing the attitudes towards climate change and its attendant risks means changing our behaviour and mindsets.
That is why I am pleased that our choice of activity for this year’s World Habitat Day observation was a debate among high schools in St. Catherine.
The change towards more sustainable cities and a decrease in the risks associated with climate change has to begin right here, right now with our future leaders and planners
It means cutting down on the choking traffic nuisance by opting to car-pool to and from work and school; utilizing green technology such as solar power; and preserving our parks and green spaces when planning for housing and commercial development.
It means replacing our informal settlements and blighted urban areas with decent low cost housing complete with the necessary infrastructure, and above all, planning to ensure that our natural resources are not mistreated or squandered.
As we observe World Habitat Day, I want us all to remember, that unless we develop adaptation and risk reduction strategies for our cities, towns and human settlements, we will not be able to ensure that Jamaica is the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
Dr. Horace Chang, M.P.