[sustran] Urban Poverty and Transport

Brian.Williams at unchs.org Brian.Williams at unchs.org
Sun Aug 31 13:09:13 JST 2003

Dear Colleagues,

     As many of you are aware (as many of you were in 
attendance), the kick-off meeting for the International Forum 
on Urban Poverty recently concluded in Florence, Italy.  It 
was sponsored and organized by the United Nations Centre for 
Human Settlements (Habitat) in Nairobi.  "Access to 
Affordable Transport for the Urban Poor" was one of the 
topics for discussion.  In conjunction with the larger 
meeting (in which we were successfully able to convince the 
"powers that be" that transport is an absolutely crucial 
issue when attempting to tackle poverty...no small task) a 
transport working group convened as well.  This group 
consisted primarily of NGO representatives, academic 
researchers and local authorities who have done work in this 
area (poverty, transport, gender etc.).  Other organizations 
included the ILO, World Bank, UNDP, UNICEF and UNCHS.

     As a follow-up to this meeting, a number of global 
initiatives are currently in formulation in a number of 
quarters.  However as a first step, I would like to provide 
all of you with the text from the final presentation on 
Transport given to the Plenary of the forum on the final day. 
It represents the collective efforts of the entire working 
group and was presented by Dr. John Howe of IHE in Delft, The 
Netherlands (statement included below).

Brian Williams, Human Settlements Officer
United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (HABITAT)
Research and Development Division
P.O. Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya
TEL: (254 2) 623-916
FAX: (254 2) 624-265
EMAIL: brian.williams at unchs.org

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Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen

This is the report of the Transport Working Group.  The 
discussion of the Working Group
took place under the theme of Access to Affordable Transport 
for the Urban Poor

The working group discussions built on the major themes of 
the keynote speeches held in
plenary held on Monday morning.  these were taken to be:

FIRSTLY, lack of recognition of the relationship between 
transport and the eradication of
poverty.  In fact the word TRANSPORT tends to have negative 
connotations.  The important
relationships are those between poverty access and 

SECONDLY, and as a guiding principle for governments and aid 
agencies ... "if you cannot
increase the income of the poor, do not, by your transport 
policies and interventions, increase
the poor's expenditure on travel".

The most important lessons from the case study were that:

Firstly, that it is crucial to identify what poor people want 
and can do for themselves;

Secondly that we must work out the other ingredients that are 
required to implement these
solutions; and

Thirdly, that it is necessary to locate the institutions that 
can deliver the ingredients that are
outside the control of poor people.

Nobody who was present at the plenary presentation of the 
Bombay transport case study can
have failed to have been impressed by the positive outcome of 
involving the poorest groups.

Discussions in the working group took place under four main 
themes, with the fifth
summarizing discussion of practical approaches and 
implementation strategies.  These four
themes were:

1.   Transport, Poverty and Sustainable Human Settlements
2.   Gender and Transport
3.   International Institutions and NGO Relations
4.   Poverty, Infrastructure Provision and Employment


Two main questions were raised:

1.   How best to involve the poor in the transport 
decision-making process?

2.   How to facilitate a decision-making process whose 
outcome actually assists the poor?

As a result of case study experience, it was suggested that 
effective action is often possible
by the formation of coalitions of the most affected local 
groups and interests.  Where these
groups represent people living in poverty, assistance is 
usually required with media relations,
technical transport issues, and with mobilizing resources.

However, it was pointed out that coalitions of groups may 
also lead to other problems and
conflicts.  They sometimes comprise conflicting interests, 
and mechanisms to resolve these
conflicts so that people living in poverty are best served, 
must be developed and


The main theme was that women have very different travel 
needs deriving from the multiple
tasks they must perform in their households and in their 

Little recognition of this difference has been paid in 
conventional transport planning
methodologies which was seen as deriving both from the lack 
of disaggregated data on travel
needs and a lack of a gender-focused perspective.

One theme of discussion was that much could be learnt from 
research into rural travel and
transport where a gender-focus has been established for some 
years.  However, these
methods remain to be adapted and used in urban areas.


The crucial role transport plays in sustainable human 
settlements and improving the lives of
those living in poverty has been widely acknowledged at a 
number of previous Habitat
meetings, particularly during Habitat II.  NGO groups have 
played a key role in gaining this
recognition. However, it was agreed that strategies and 
mechanisms for turning recognition
into effective action need to be substantially strengthened.

Discussion raised the important issue of recognizing both 
social as well as economic
sustainability.  Recent research was tabled showing that in 
fact, those interests can be
reconciled.,  That is providing efficient transport to the 
poorest groups actually makes good
economic sense, since it improves the competitiveness and 
productivity of urban areas.


The  main theme of discussion was how to involve communities 
in the planning and labour-
intensive provision of transport infrastructure provision, 
which is characteristically deficient
in unplanned settlements.

Emphasis on involvement and labour-intensive methods were 
seen as tools for community
empowerment, employment and asset creation.  The modes of 
transport used and operated
by the poorest groups makes a significant contribution to 
employment but this is seldom
acknowledged and their interests are too often jeopardized by 
conventional transport policies.


Activities under the Forum will focus on changing current 
practices to favour those which
will promote the rights of people living in poverty, 
particularly women and children, in order
to achieve equitable levels of accessibility.  This will be 
done by ensuring the active
participation of the poor in the transport planning process. 
 The activities will include;
capacity-building of local groups by enhancing and extending 
the SUSTRAN information and
exchange network; through provision for resources and 
technical assistance; and by
developing gender-aware methodologies for planning and 
evaluating investment in transport
infrastructure and other access-promoting initiatives.

These activities will be explored throughout Asia, Africa and 
Latin America, however, on-
going activities in the cities of Kathmandu, Nepal, 
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Quito,
Ecuador will be strengthened.

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