What does a modern city mean to you? To me, as a resident of Tashkent, the largest city in Central Asia, it means, above all, access to hot and cold running water, a sewage system, a continuous gas supply, electricity, heat in the winter—in other words, a feeling of comfort.
The urban population in Uzbekistan is steadily growing. As of 1 July, 2011, 14.65 million people, or 51.4 percent of the population, were living in cities and urban-type settlements. Uzbekistan’s population in 2025 is projected at 33.4 million. At the current growth rate, the urban population in 2025 will be 17.17 million. (Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs)
Source: Compiled from material issued by the Republic of Uzbekistan State Statistics Committee.
How can cities cope with this kind of demographic pressure? (See: Improving Municipal Governance and Urban Infrastructure in Uzbekistan) After all, the condition of urban infrastructure is a reflection of quality of life. And let’s not forget that another dimension of the development of urban infrastructure is to provide opportunities for business to grow through innovation.
Only if cities are able to provide access for businesses to continuous light, gas, water and sewage disposal will cities become points of growth for industry and innovation.
What enterprise can function – or thrive – if there are regular power outages, gas-supply interruptions, or no access to water? (See: Welfare and Urbanization in Uzbekistan) Under such conditions, is there any hope for the development not only of cities, but of the economy as a whole?
From this standpoint, urban infrastructure is of paramount and pressing importance. For example, in order for Uzbekistan to cope with the increased pressure on urban infrastructure, by 2025 it will be necessary to:
- Build up the supply of drinking water in cities to 1.2 billion cubic metres per year
- Replace 3,700 kilometres of water pipes and 1,700 kilometres of sewer pipes, and half of urban underground gas lines
- Increase the capacity of the electricity supply by 23 to 25 percent, the gas supply by 10 to 12 percent, and urban waste disposal by threefold.
It goes without saying that a major factor is wear and tear to infrastructure built back in the Soviet era. More than 50 percent of underground gas lines operate beyond their standard service life. It is estimated that 500 million cubic metres of gas are lost, 60 percent of heat, 40 percent of drinking water, and 25 percent of electricity – due to deteriorating infrastructure.
The Government of Uzbekistan must be given credit for allocating major capital investments to urban infrastructure. For example, more than $8.4 billion is marked for investment during 2011 and 2015. But how productive will these infusions be if the employees of the companies involved don’t have the necessary skills and knowledge about how to regulate and coordinate the condition of infrastructure at the local level?
Who pays for these losses in the event of accidents or substandard repairs? Urban residents and business people do. We incur loss of both natural and financial resources.
Is there a way out of this situation? Of course, as we have already realized, these issues largely depend on the system of governance.
One of the ideas of the working group that was hired to prepare a report on municipal governance was to establish a Department of Urban Infrastructure Management attached to khokimiyats (local administrations). This department would enable each city to consolidate activities of the various companies responsible for providing infrastructure services.
This would allow for streamlining the use of public funds and attracting foreign investment, small business and private enterprise to infrastructure development projects.
Urbanization for Uzbekistan is an irreversible process. Cities and the urban population will grow, and therefore so will the demand for infrastructure. And as a result, it is important to strike the necessary balance between the demand of urban residents and businesses on the one hand and the Government’s capabilities on the other.
What solutions and approaches are other cities and countries taking when it comes to urbanization and preparing for a sustainable future?