Growing Towns May Shape Future; Are We Ready?

To harness the economic power of Cambodia’s towns, the government should create a national policy on urban development and develop urban planning expertise, an urban planner and government official said Friday.

The urban share of Cambodia’s population is expected to grow in the next decade from 20 to 30 percent, and cities, which currently generate half of economic activity, are projected to account for more than 70 percent by 2010, according to Detlef Kammeier, co-author of an upcoming Asian Development Bank study on Cambodia’s urban sector.

“In ten years time we’re talking about 30, 35 percent urban population, now it’s only 20 percent… it’s going to grow quite fast,” Mr Kammeier, a professor at the Asian Institute for Technology in Bangkok, said on the sidelines of the 2010 Development Research Forum in Phnom Penh on Friday.

To guide this urban expansion, the government should create a national policy for urban development and train urban planners, he said, explaining that current government policy, expertise and funding for urban development is lacking, and in most cities urban infrastructure and services are neglected, except in Phnom Penh-which houses 55 percent of Cambodia’s urban population.

Mr Kammeier added that so far government urban sector expertise had been slow to develop due to a lack of funding from international donors, which tended to focus on rural development.

He explained that under a national urban policy, medium and small cities could be guided to grow into regional economic centers supporting the development of surrounding rural areas.

“Each of these district towns has an enormous potential for rural agro-processing and for the location of…transport, health, education services, market functions,” he said.

Asked if the upcoming ADB study had researched the issue of forced evictions in cities, Mr Kammeier said, “We were asked not to touch upon that.”

Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, deputy director-general of land management and urban planning at the Land Management Ministry, said developing a national urban policy was “very important,” adding that it could help avoid unregulated urban sprawl.

He said studies have shown that without proper urban policies in place, “The first thing you will see is that the most productive agricultural lands will be lost to development.”

Mr Socheat Khemro said a national urban policy would also help inform cities of appropriate development investments.

“If [a city] is good for eco-tourism, but without knowing this they plan an industrial zone, the [investment] impact will be lost,” he said.

Mr Socheat Khemro said even if donors prioritize rural poverty reduction they should pay more attention to urban development issues, because regional urban centers can be important drivers for rural economic growth.

“Urban development is very important… rural products need urban markets. Farmers won’t be able to get out of poverty if urban areas don’t produce goods with raw material from the countryside,” he said.


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