A city’s inability to offer infrastructures that enable life, such as drinking water, conditions of hygiene, electricity and other such life-enabling amenities leads to very low ranking of such cities.
Every year, multiple global surveys of several hundred cities are undertaken by many international organisations. These surveys are assessed on the basis of predetermined benchmarks and cities are then ranked for their quality of living. The most prominent organisations that carry such surveys include Mercer, Monocle and the Economist Intelligence Unit. When the results are published, the focus, quite naturally, is on the cities that offer the best quality of living. In the year 2019, the ten cities that offer the best quality of living, according to Mercer are Vienna, Zurich, Vancouver, Munich, Auckland, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Geneva and Basel. The other two surveys come up with similar results with minor variations in ranking.
It is interesting to note that the ten cities that top the ‘quality of life’ list have an average population below one million.
This article wishes to concentrate on cities that are compelled to fall behind and figure among those that have the worst quality of life. This is with a view to discover the factors that categorises them as the worst cities. It may be difficult for many cities to aspire to belong to the top few that offer the best quality, but it may be possible to avoid some of the pitfalls that pull cities down and make them stand amidst the worst. In 2019, Mercer ranked Baghdad, capital of Iraq, as the worst city. Bangui (Central African Republic), Sana’a (Yemen), Port Au Prince (Haiti), Khartoum (Sudan), N’Djamena (Chad), Damascus (Syria), Brazzaville (Congo), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Conakry (Guinea Republic) were the other nine cities that fell among the worst ten in that order. The other two surveys did not have very wide variations in their outcomes.
It is interesting to note that the ten cities that top the ‘quality of life’ list have an average population below one million. Only four of them individually cross the million mark and none of them are above two million. Their average population density is also standing low at around 4,200 persons per sq. km. Only two of them cross the 5,000 per sq. km. mark and none are even close to 10,000 per sq. km. On the other hand, the ten cities that are at the bottom of the ‘quality of life’ list have an average population of 3.75 million. One of them is a mega city (above 10 million) and seven are million-plus cities. Their average population density is above 12,000 persons per sq. km. and two of them around 20,000 persons per sq. km.
Surely, in all these cases, war is the ultimate destroyer of good, productive and normal life in a city.
Among factors that severely erode quality of life, war is the standout denominator. Cities that are ravaged by an on-going war on their streets are completely ripped of any notion of quality of life. Physical survival itself is at constant risk in such war-torn cities, allowing no assurance that a person caught in the cross-fire of bloody strife could survive. Hence, any benchmark of quality becomes utterly inapplicable. Within wars there are proxy wars fought out by external powers in alien settlements, such as the war in Yemen engaged in by Iran and Saudi Arabia, war lords carving out towns as parts of their territory and unleashing a blood-spattered battle or even several shades of sectarian violence that bedevil the streets and homes of many African cities. Surely, in all these cases, war is the ultimate destroyer of good, productive and normal life in a city. Sana'a, the largest city in Yemen, Tripoli in Libya, Bangui in the Central African Republic and Baghdad in Iraq fall under this category.
Cities that are home to terrorism or are breeding and recruiting grounds for terror groups or have terror thrust upon them fall almost in the same category of continual disturbances as war. Since life is threatened to be disrupted without warning and danger keeps constantly lurking in the shadows, living normally is rendered entirely impossible in the face of such nagging fear. All cities bedeviled by such fate fall at the bottom of the quality of life rankings. Khartoum, the second largest city in Sudan and a key recruiting ground for ISIS, N'Djamena in Chad where frequent suicide bombing attacks are carried out by Boko Haram and Bamako in Mali have witnessed repeated terrorist attacks and fall into this group.
Cities where there are high poverty levels and high unemployment rates put large numbers of people under enormous stress to eke out a living.
Abnormally high incidences of kidnapping, violent crime, mugging, murder and rape are highly destructive of life in a city. While their impact is not as widely felt as that of wars, their visitation on a large number of families without the expectation of quick redressal has quite a negative impact. Such survival cannot be said to possess any worthiness or quality and, in many ways, resemble the situational conditions of war for the common people. Port Au Prince in Haiti, Conakry in Guinea Republic, Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria and Karachi in Pakistan have been listed as such cities.
Massively corrupt governments, irrespective of their nature, whether autocrats or democrats, contribute immensely to their peoples’ misery and poverty as they do not allow any reasonable development to take place and reach the citizens. Many times, they are accompanied by protests and political instability. Such a situation makes settled pursuit of any productive activity — such as business, trade or industry — virtually impossible. Communities living in this atmosphere can enjoy little quality of life and such cities would figure among the bottom of the quality list. Examples of this includes Brazzaville in the Congo and Harare in Zimbabwe.
Cities where there are high poverty levels and high unemployment rates put large numbers of people under enormous stress to eke out a living. Many in such cities are almost completely dependent on aid for survival. These features are equally destructive of quality of life as people live on the edge of survival. Bangui in the Central African Republic, Lome in Togo, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Dushanbe in Tajikistan, Dhaka in Bangladesh and Niamey in Niger fall under this category.
Peace, order and employment are fundamental to quality of life.
Lastly, a city’s inability to offer infrastructures that enable life, such as drinking water, conditions of hygiene, electricity and other such life-enabling amenities leads to very low ranking of such cities. Much of the citizens’ energy is diverted in procuring potable water and power and fighting filth and disease. All war and violence-torn cities suffer this fate as war and terrorism both lead to destruction of existing infrastructure. As a consequence, those cities that are at the bottom of quality of life list have poor and skeletal infrastructure without exception.
Two clear conclusions can be drawn. One, that peace, order and employment are fundamental to quality of life. Two, that size and density are apparently inversely proportional to quality of life. As far as cities go, a big or say large city is bad and small with lesser number of people is sweet.
In the light of the analysis above, when we turn our attention to Indian cities, we find that they have largely remained unchanged in their overall global position for several years. This year Hyderabad and Pune were at 143, followed by Bengaluru (149), Chennai (151), Kolkata (160) and Delhi (162). While they seem to be doing well on economic benchmarks, clean air, traffic congestion and infrastructure in general have prevented their rankings from going up. They are also all destined to be among the largest global cities. And as we have seen, the largest have a slim chance of figuring among the best.
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Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...Read More +