Rural-Urban "Drift"

By Kevin J. Barr

The editorial in the Fiji Sun (April 25th) and some of the letters to the Editor around that time discussed the rural/urban drift and the attempt made by the Commissioner Western and the Prime Minister to try and address the issue by building up facilities in rural areas and so providing people there with better schools, roads, access to markets etc. All that is good and very positive.

The editorial in the Fiji Sun (April 25th) and some of the letters to the Editor around that time discussed the rural/urban drift and the attempt made by the Commissioner Western and the Prime Minister to try and address the issue by building up facilities in rural areas and so providing people there with better schools, roads, access to markets etc. All that is good and very positive.

However your editorial stated that,
with this rural to urban drift, “the numbers of squatters are starting to outnumber the working class or people who can actually afford basic services”. It goes on to quote a source which claims that this rural/urban drift is bringing more problems to those in urban areas such as crime and overcrowding.

A couple of observations:
  • The rural/urban drift was noted as far back as 1955 and successive governments have been made aware of the need to provide more affordable low cost housing for those whom the process of urbanisation brings to the cities. The supply has never kept up with the need.
  • Moreover, with the non-renewal of leases in rural areas in recent years, the numbers of those coming to the city and swelling the ranks of squatter settlements has increased. The NZ scoping mission a few years ago suggested that 15% of Fiji’s population lived in squatter settlements with perhaps 20% of them living in the greater Suva area. *
  • The researcher, Donovan Storey, claimed that 80% of all the housing put up in Fiji between 2001 and 2006 was in squatter settlements.
  • All efforts to improve rural areas in terms of schools, health centres, access to markets, better housing, roads and other infrastructure are laudable and hopefully will lessen the drift. However sociologists all over the world suggest that, although we may lessen the numbers coming to the towns, we will never really stop it. That is the price of urbanisation and so-called “modernization”.
  • You seem to contrast squatters and the working class. In fact many squatters are working (and have been working for many years) but their low wage does not allow them to improve their condition. Moreover many in the so-called squatter settlements have been there for generations.
  • Squatters are not to be equated with the criminal element in society. Poor people are not necessarily criminals but poverty is certainly a breeding ground for petty crime. A lot of the serious crime (as we see from our newspapers) is committed not by squatters but by those in “white collar” jobs. Also criminal activities have recently come to light among civil servants and overseas businessmen living in Fiji. So please don’t pin all crime on squatters.
  • Some months ago the media blamed the squatters at Wailea of being responsible for the most polluted waterway in Suva. However the Professor at USP who conducted the study of Suva’s polluted waterways said that the most polluted waterway in Suva was Nabukalou Creek and that the pollution was caused by industrial waste (not squatters).
So I guess I want to suggest that we need to understand the causes of the problems arising from urbanisation and not blame the victims. While we try to improve conditions in rural areas in an attempt to retain people in a healthy rural environment, it is also necessary to understand and address the problems of those living in urban areas. Among other things these include a supply of decent affordable low-cost housing and a just living wage for those in full-time employment.

* Ed. note.  My analysis of the 1996 Census (Bureau of Statistics Housing monograh ) showed some 13.5% of housing in Suva City and 25.6% in the Suva Urban Area was "inadequate" in terms of tenure, structure and basic amenities Most of these dwellings were occupied by  squatters.  My aerial photo analysis in 1996 (UNDP) estimated Suva city and urban area squatters as 18.8% of the population, and some 49.9% of Fiji's urban squatters to be resident in the Greater Suva Urban Area. My earlier doctoral research showed Suva City's squatter population to have increased by 37.9% between 1958 and 1976, and by 170% in the Suva Urban Area.  The Suva Urban Area included Lami to the West and the new city of Nasinu in the Suva-Nausori corridor.-- Croz Walsh. 

Comments

Scott said…
It needs to be recognised that what is happening in Fiji is part of a major long-term global population shift, from rural to peri-urban and urban areas. Some estimates suggest that around 2007 for the first time in human history more of the world's population lived in urban areas than rural.

This movement of people is associated with an increase in slums and impoverishment. Governments everywhere are battling to develop policies to make these potential workers productive and well nourished.

When governments represent or over-represent rural areas, then it is even less likely that the appropriate change in political direction will occur. Among the reasons why the political power of the chiefs and politicians who have rural constituencies must be broken in Fiji is the need for public policies based upon an understanding of this irreversible population movement.

Another reason for a major political change is that many rural populations are also suffering impoverishment. This poverty can not be reversed by a return to any idealised past dependent upon chiefly benevolence. Instead national policies and practices are needed which tie the conditions of urban employed and unemployed with declining living standards in rural areas.

As The Philippines, Bangladesh and other countries where rural elites hold inordinate political power suggest, breaking the stranglehold of the past is required to deal with the future of continuing urban growth.

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