UN: Booming crime in teeming cities divisive

Crime is booming in sprawling cities of the developing world but fear of attack outweighs the reality and is further dividing already divided populations, a United Nations agency said on Monday.

Although 60% of urban dwellers in developing nations have been crime victims in the past five years, the general fear of criminal and terrorist attack is out of proportion to actual levels of violence, the agency UN-Habitat said in a 2007 report.

This in turn prompts people and planners to focus far more on personal security than may be necessary and leads to literally putting up walls between the haves and the have nots.

”Perceptions are worse than reality,” UN-Habitat’s executive director Anna Tibaijuka said. ”It is going to be difficult if not impossible to deliver sustainable development if people are scared.”

”We cannot have a civilisation that lives in fear. We have got to find ways to build more confident societies,” she said.

The report, timed to coincide with World Habitat Day, said poverty, insecurity of land tenure, social exclusion, poor planning and corruption were among the root causes of the global problem.

Governments worldwide had to tackle all of these areas urgently or risk a social explosion, the report said.

Matters were getting worse not better as the world moved this year to being predominantly urbanised from rural and the population continued to grow through six billion towards nine billion.

And by 2050 two thirds of humanity will live in towns and cities, so tackling the problem was crucial.

Natural and man-made disasters were adding to the problems, and climate change would pile on the pressure still further, the report said.

”Africa will be the worst affected by climate change, and coastal cities such as Lagos and Cairo will be the first defence line. Africa urgently needs to build resilience to natural disasters,” Tibaijuka said.

Already more than one billion people or a third of the urban population live in slums and most of these are in the developing world. Many of the world’s biggest cities are in coastal areas that are the most at threat from rising seas.

Crime is rampant in the sprawling cites of places like Latin America — where 80% of the population is urban — and Africa — where just under 40% is, the report said.

”Urban violence erodes the social capital of the poor. Insecurity affects the poor more intensely, it breaks down socio-cultural bonds and prevents social mobility, thus contributing to the development or urban ghettoes,” Tibaijuka said. – Reuters

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