By Razib Ahmed
On the 2nd week of August 2011, Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published a survey report on global livability. According to this Global livability survey, Melbourne of Australia was ranked as the best place to live on earth. There is a restriction on reproducing the entire or a part of the table of the rankings of the cities and that is why I cannot do it. However, I can see that among the top ten ranked cities, all of them are from rich countries like Australia, Canada, Finland and New Zealand.
Naturally, most people would want to know the top ten cities but I was particularly interested to know about the condition of South Asian cities and I could find all of them lying below 110 ranks out of 140 cities. In this blog post, I am going to talk about the South Asian cities that were present in this global livability survey.
Before that, it would be unfair if I do not say anything about the top ten cities in the list. In fact, Australia has four in the top ten while Canada has another three. In the second position is Vienna of Austria and then there is Vancouver of Canada (3rd position). You may wonder how the U.S. or American cities did in the survey. On the 26th place I could see Honolulu and then on the rank 30 was Pittsburgh. Paris (France) was ranked 16th while Tokyo was 18th. In fact, as far as I could see, the cities belonging to the rich countries or developed countries dominated the first 50 positions.
About the methodology of the survey, I am giving an extract from the press release so that you will be able to understand how they ranked and rated the cities:
“Every city is assigned a rating of relative comfort for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure. Each factor in a city is rated as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable. For qualitative indicators, a rating is awarded based on the judgment of in-house analysts and in-city contributors. For quantitative indicators, a rating is calculated based on the relative performance of a number of external data points.
The scores are then compiled and weighted to provide a score of 1–100, where 1 is considered intolerable and 100 is considered ideal. The liveability rating is provided both as an overall score and as a score for each category. To provide points of reference, the score is also given for each category relative to New York and an overall position in the ranking of 140 cities is provided.”
As I said earlier, my main interest is to talk about the South Asian cities. From India, there are two cities in this list and they are New Delhi and Mumbai. New Delhi was ranked 112 while Mumbai was placed 116th. Mumbai is the largest and the most populous city in India and it has a huge population. In the list, most of the cities with huge population did not do very well. Naturally, you cannot expect Mumbai to do well either because whether you like it or not there are thousands of poor people living in not so ideal condition in this city. However, I was a bit surprised and shocked to see the position of New Delhi below in the list.
New Delhi is the capital of India and Indian government spend a healthy amount of money to develop it. However, many people are still poor in this place and they do not good access to good health care and education. At the same time, infrastructure for New Delhi is not that good either or not up to the world standard. Poor people do not have proper facilities and it is perhaps shame for the capital city of a country like India whose economy is now the second largest in Asia. Indian government has been constantly claiming that India is shinning but it is shinning more for the rich people. Things will not change overnight and millions of people are still very poor in India.
Pakistan had one city in the survey and it was Karachi. Karachi is the largest and most populous city of Pakistan and again it has a huge population. It was ranked 134th and only six cities were after Karachi in the list. Again, I was not very shocked because Karachi has several important problems. One of them is electricity. During summer, people in this city suffer a lot from power shortage or load shedding. Education and health care are limited for poor people. Infrastructure is not good either as I have already mentioned acute electricity shortage during summer. Perhaps the biggest problem for Karachi is lack of stability. Violence is a natural part of life for many people here. We can see people getting killed in Karachi on a regular basis from terrorism and sectarian violence.
Sri Lanka had Colombo ranked 129th position. Again, I am not that much shocked because Sri Lanka suffered from civil war for a long time. The infrastructure of the city is not world class either and stability was always a key concern for many years. However, since civil war has ended, I expect Colombo to climb up some positions in the next three to five years.
Bangladeshi capital Dhaka was ranked 139th position and it was just ahead of Zimbabwe’s Harare. So, according to the survey, Dhaka is the second least livable city on earth. I live in Dhaka and I am not that much shocked with this ranking because Dhaka is perhaps the most crowded city on earth. Within one square kilometer hundreds of people live and infrastructure is a key problem. Thousands of people are extremely poor and many of them even do not have any home to live. Thousands of people live in the streets and many of them are children. As far as health care is concerned, there are not enough doctors and hospital beds for the fifteen to twenty millions of people living in an around the city of the Dhaka.
Traffic jam is another big problem and sometimes patient die in the ambulance stuck in a traffic jam. Unless the Bangladeshi government can decentralize then the pressure on Dhaka will never end and Dhaka will consistently be at the bottom of the survey.
Nepal’s capital Katmandu is ranked 128th. Nepal had been also cursed with violence and political fighting for the last 10-15 years. So, there is a lot of pressure on the Nepalese government to just maintain a country in a normal way. The government surely cannot afford to spend a lot of money for the development of capital Katmandu.
I cannot argue with the ranking of the South Asian cities because I live in South Asia and I have been writing about South Asia for quite a long time. In fact, I have been almost constantly blogging about South Asia for nearly six years and that is why I really cannot argue with the findings and ranking of Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) in it as I know how bad the condition of South Asian cities are. However, I think that they overlook some smaller cities of the region.
One of them surely is Lahore and another is Bangalore. These two cities are more comfortable and attractive to live in compared to the largest cities like Mumbai and Karachi. On the other hand, I could see that smaller cities of countries like Australia, New Zealand, or Canada have been included in the list. This is the only shortcoming of this survey in my opinion. I hope that in the coming years, Economist Intelligence Unit will try to take smaller cities of South Asia into consideration while they make this survey report.
South Asian governments need to focus on developing the condition of the largest cities. However, the government cannot do anything alone because many people do not pay taxes properly. If citizens do not pay taxes properly then it will be impossible for the government to get the necessary fund to improve infrastructure, health care and education. Things will not change very soon for South Asia. That is for sure.
The citizens should also try to become more aware and alert about the condition of their own cities. They should not only pay taxes but also try to have more collective and cooperative mentality. In many neighborhoods, the citizens can donate some small amount of money and can surely try to set up a good school or hospital. They can also donate some small amount of money and ensure better safety and security and even take some initiatives to collect and manage garbage more efficiently from the houses and from the streets. Unless the people change in South Asia, the ranking will not change.