MAY 7 is general election day for the United Kingdom. I was recently in London right in the midst of the campaign period.
Unlike us here, there is not much fanfare in their campaigning. No buntings and no parading of pictures of candidates.
Party leaders mostly meet small groups of voters. Some campaigning takes place in factories where voters can question prospective political candidates on issues of the election.
One of the contentious issues during the campaign concerns immigration. A more specific issue is the influx of migrants from Eastern Europe. The claim is that they have taken over the jobs of locals. Never mind the fact that without the migrants, it would be difficult to find locals to fill some of the lower paying jobs like driving London buses or working as cleaning crew members in the hotels.
The recent drowning of more than 700 migrants in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy showed Britain’s true colours on migration. As a member of the European Union (EU), Britain offered to help stem the flow of illegal immigrants mostly northern Africans. But it made very clear that it can only offer to send ships to save drowning migrants. It would not offer placements for the migrants in the UK.
Most of the migrants continue to brave the rough seas trying to escape civil strife at home. Despite the high risks and the massive cost they have to pay boat operators, migration across the Mediterranean has not shown signs of abating.
In fact, come to think of it, migration is not entirely new. Australia and the United States, for example, were both built by migrants. But nowadays most of the global migration is motivated by economic opportunities. This is what globalisation is all about.
Another type of migration which has not attracted much media attention is the movement of people from rural to urban areas.
The rural population migrate to cities hoping for better employment. Not all find their nirvana though and many are disappointed.
They eventually discover that in cities where income inequality is more evident, they have to resort to petty crime and begging to make ends meet.
Rural urban migration is also fuelling problems like pollution, congestion and over population giving rise to numerous socio–economic issues. Many countries especially in the developing world are not spared from this phenomenon. In China and to some extent India, rural urban migration is driving the creation of mega cities which present a new set of governance problems.
Why is this most prevalent in the developing world? Many blame it on the rural urban divide. Infrastructure and services in rural areas are deficient compared to the urban areas.
In many developing countries, the rural areas continue to lag behind in the availability of physical infrastructure, education and health facilities, safe drinking water supply, sanitation and other social services.
Though in Malaysia, much improvement has been made in rural development, the cities comparatively offer higher opportunities in terms of jobs and personal development.
However, unless action is taken soon to stem the rural urban flow, the cities will soon become saturated and over populated.
To discourage migration from rural to urban localities, more measures are needed to provide economic as well as social well being at village level.
At the moment, much of the rural well-being comes from the success of oil palm and to some extent rubber cultivation.
New sources of income generation should be identified. We need to make rural areas financially independent.
Rural industrialisation is one option. This will only succeed with better support infrastructure for industries in the rural areas.
Water and electricity supply must be more reliable. The poor Internet and broadband connections in the rural areas are the other obstacles.
Experts predict rural urban migration will emerge as the silent killer which may negate sustainability.
Dealing with the waste generated by mega cities is one major sustainability challenge. Not to mention the complex demand of public transport in such heavily populated cities.
There is no doubt that as countries strive for sustainable development, rural urban migration unless effectively managed may deal the killer blow!
DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow Academy of Sciences Malaysia
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