Diplomacy beyond nation states has risen in priority in the dialogue among policy makers around the world. The Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank promoting constructive leadership and engagement in international affair, recently held a star studded conference on the mega city challenges. According to the Atlantic Council "this event served as a prelude to the South Asia Center’s Megacity Security Conference” - scheduled to be held in November 2015 in Mumbai, India. The population of Mumbai rivals the combined population of Austria and Zambia. With the growth in population of mega cities, challenges such as education, public health and transportation require a coordinated and creative approach just to keep pace. The conference organized by the Atlantic Council brought speakers with the deftness of diplomacy as well as gravitas of experience. In his seasoned remarks, Indian Ambassador Arun K. Singh said that the conference “presents an opportunity to highlight the merits of the hitherto unsung collaboration between India and the U.S. in making our megacities safe and friendly.” He further stated that “at over 400 million, India's absolute number of urban residents is exceeded by that of only one country, and our urban population is larger than the total population of any other country…the Indian city of Varanasi has the distinction of being the oldest continuously inhabited city, with historical records of at least 3000 years.” Ambassador Singh added that “in India, the megacity challenge is a living challenge of massive proportion. It manifests itself in the need to find employment and housing -- particularly for the poor, the need to provide sanitation and drinking water, the need to build and maintain efficient public transport, to keep vehicular pollution and industrial effluents in check, and to fight crimes.” During the panel discussion that followed formal speeches, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera discussed the efforts to address challenges - such as air quality, housing and security – for a city with over 21 million residents. US Secretary of Housing and Development (HUD) Julian Castro talked about the increased urbanization around the world – a trend driven by the ambition to improve individual and family circumstances in hope of realizing dreams. Quoting United Nations estimates, he mentioned that by 2050 the majority of the world’s population would become urban residents. Secretary Castro highlighted the need to focus on the challenges mentioned in Ambassador Singh’s speech. The panel discussion included US Department of State’s Ian Klaus and Kathryn Schalow who presented their perspectives on the megacity challenges. According to the Atlantic Council: “the challenge of the megacity is so ubiquitous that no matter the rank or position, civil servants of all origins have a shared vocabulary to discuss the challenges and opportunities of this distinct 21st century facet of modern life.” The Atlantic Council, as stated on its website, through its continued work on megacities, seeks to provide a platform for megacity ties to coalesce. Continuing this theme, Ambassador Singh – in his speech at Michigan University on Oct 14, 2015 – stated that “USAID will serve as a knowledge partner to support the Indian Prime Minister's 500 Cities National Urban Development Mission and Clean India Campaign.” Ambassador Singh concluded diplomatically: “experience has taught us that deeper dialogue and effort at empathetic understanding is the best way to overcome such challenges, since the big picture is one of convergence and partnership.” Photos are courtesy of the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.