The Forgotten Poor

Akinwumi Adesina
Akinwumi Adesina

The International Institute for Environment and Development, publishes a report which warns of ways climate change threatens food security of the urban poor usually left out of development plans of governments

|  By Maureen Chigbo   |  Apr. 15, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

CITIES like Lagos and Abuja all over the world are hotbeds for migrants in search of better means to earn their living. This is why many people from rural areas migrate to the urban areas in search of white collar jobs and other business opportunities. But many of the migrants end up in slums where most of the urban poor live.

The mark of the urban poor in most Nigeria cities is etched on the faces of the hawkers, the woman by the road side roasting plantain or selling groundnut under the intense heat of the sun. In most cases, they endure untold hardship striving to eke their livelihoods under a rickety umbrella under rain and sunshine.

Ama Pepple
Ama Pepple

A study done by Tokunbo Simbowale Osinubi, Department of Economics, Faculty of the Social Sciences, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in August 2003, showed that though the incidence of poverty in Nigeria is much higher in the rural areas than in the urban centres, the urban slum dwellers are also more deprived. She also said that urban poverty has been a low priority on research and development agenda of Nigerian governments.

“The recent renewed interest in urban issues has been due to the widespread idea that urbanisation is speeding up. At the end of the year 2000, about half the world’s population live in urban areas, in 1975 this was only 28 percent. In 1970, developing countries’ level of urbanisation was 25 percent. In 1994, it has increased to 37 percent and it is projected to be 57 percent in 2025, according to United Nations.

In Nigeria. the number of the rural poor declined from 26.4 million in 1985 to 22.8 million in 1992 while in urban towns and cities, it rose from 9.7 million to 11.9 million in 1985-1992. The depth of poverty declined from 19 percent to 16 percent in rural areas, while it increased in urban areas from 9 percent to 12 percent. In 1985- 1992, total extreme poverty in Nigeria increased from 10.1 million people to 13.9 million with a near three-fold increase in the urban extreme poor from 1.5 million to 4.3 million people, according to World Bank. Moreover, Osinubi, who conducted the  research on the urban poor in Agege area of Lagos, said the depth and severity of extreme poverty increased more than seven-fold in urban Nigeria compared with a two-fold increase in rural areas.

From these data, the problem of urban poverty in Nigeria is becoming more serious and alarming as compared to the rural poverty. Osinubi found out that there was considerable inequality in the distribution of wealth in the area and attributed it to unequal opportunities to get some level of education, type of occupation and difference in household size and number of persons working in the household among others.   The study showed that there was need for government to formulate and carry out thorough implementation of economic development plans and programmes that will provide employment, housing, education, improved health care facilities among other things specifically for the urban poor.

The sad thing about this urban poverty is that most governments do not capture them in most of their developmental activities. Focus has always been on the rural areas. This is why the recent report of the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED, should be heeded by the Nigerian government. It is  especially important that Akinwumi Adesina and Ama Pepple, both ministers in the ministry of agriculture  and rural development and housing and urban development, respectively, pay attention to the report  in order to help the urban poor  to, at least, overcome the adverse effect of climate change.

Cecilia Tacoli
Cecilia Tacoli

According to IIED, policies to increase food security in the global South focus too much on rural food production and not enough on ensuring that poor people can access and afford food, especially in urban areas. The report published in March warns that climate change will only make this policy gap worse, because climate change impacts will affect not only harvests but also the systems that people use to transport, store, and buy and sell food.

Most people in urban areas buy their food and this makes the urban poor particularly at risk. Any climate-induced disruption to food production, transport and storage – either in the urban area itself or in distant farmlands – can affect food supplies and prices in urban areas. Yet, most policies that aim to increase food security focus solely on boosting production from farms and fisheries in rural areas.

The report highlights the link between income, poverty and food insecurity in urban areas. For most low-income urban citizens, food represents a sizeable portion of the money they spend. Even small increases in price would therefore have big impacts on food security, with citizens reducing the amount and quality of the food they buy. For the residents of informal urban settlements, food insecurity is also the consequence of lack of space to store and cook food, lack of time to shop and prepare meals, inadequate access to clean water and often non-existing sewage systems. These settlements are disproportionately affected by floods, typhoons, heat waves and other impacts of climate change because they tend to be located in areas more exposed to these events, and because they lack the most basic infrastructure.

“Food security is back on the agenda, thanks to the rising prices and the threat that climate change poses to agricultural production,” says Cecilia Tacoli, the report’s author. “But policies that focus on rural food production alone will not tackle the rising food insecurity in urban areas. We also need policies that improve poor people’s ability to access and afford food, especially in urban areas.” “The journey that food takes from a rural producer to an urban consumer involves many steps,” says Tacoli.

“It must travel through formal and informal systems as it is stored, distributed and sold. Each one of these steps is a point of potential vulnerability to climate change. For consumers, this will mean sharp and sudden increases in food prices”. Tacoli says that governments must rise to these challenges by ensuring that policies can protect the urban poor from food insecurity linked to rising prices, inadequate living conditions and the effects of climate change in both rural and urban areas.

Decent and stable employment is essential but not sufficient: adequate infrastructure and housing and access to formal and informal markets are just as important. “Climate change threatens to multiply many of the big challenges that face the world’s urban poor,” says Tacoli. “Policymakers need a far better understanding of what it means to be poor in an urban centre.”

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