The need to battle urban poverty

Home rental and property prices rise to levels beyond the affordability of many

pic by BERNAMA

TAKE a stroll along the Dayabumi Complex in the federal capital in the wee hours of the morning and chances are you would find people sleeping at some nooks and crannies and other hidden areas within the once admired structure.

Homelessness is a real issue and is fast rising into the country’s top social issues. The government already has initiatives to address the issue, including the setting up of dedicated transit centres for the less fortunate locals. But the increasing number of homeless people also reflects the worrying threat of urban poverty.

In fact, in the last decade or so, urban poverty is becoming more visible, especially in major cities as urbanisation weighs on the less able financially.

According to statistics, the country experienced cumulative growth of urbanisation in the last few decades, rising from 34.2% in 1980 to 71% in 2010.

A research by Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Poverty and Development Studies (now the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies) a few years ago showed a sharp rise in urban poor and homeless people.

Urbanisation and rapid growth in key cities create various problems including high cost of living, crime, social problems, environmental deterioration, unemployment and poverty.

Malaysia has reduced poverty from 52.4% in 1970 to 5.7% in 2004, but visible pockets of urban poverty are often neglected. Rapid development and growth encourage migration and expansion of urban boundaries.

Rural folks from low-income shift to the cities. The influx of foreigners, largely illegals, adds to the rise in urban poverty. Home rental and property prices rise to levels beyond the affordability of many. Basic living expenditure also rises with demand.

The situation is worse for individuals with low education level, workers with lack of skills that make them unemployable and couples with a large family, but minimum wages.

In fact, many see urban poverty as harsher than rural poverty.

Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun was reported as saying that more jobs should be created in the rural areas to reduce the number of young people moving to the cities, seeking employment opportunities but only to be confronted with urban poverty.

Rina said many victims of urban poverty are from rural areas.

“For me, urban poverty is a more serious issue. At least, the poor people in rural areas have their own homes to live in despite being in a dilapidated state.

“As for the poor people in Kuala Lumpur or major cities, they have to rent a house or a room and that involves costs. Those who cannot afford to pay eventually become homeless,” she said.

The point Rina is making is that people in rural areas could still enjoy a good life although they earn less.

“They can live comfortably back in their hometowns as they have land and space to play with and grow crops for self-sustenance,” she said.

Malaysia is set to become a high income nation by 2025 and this will bring many rewards.

But urban poverty must be addressed — or more cementrendered pathways and back alleys will be the beds and resting place of many.

Rahman Daros is the supplement editor of The Malaysian Reserve.