Some time ago I came across this video showing how international oil companies in Iraqi Kurdistan take over land that belongs to farmers without properly compensating them, or giving them a choice to say no. This land expropriation is supported by the Kurdistan Regional Government, who benefits from the oil revenues that has allowed for a rapid economic growth in the region. The villagers are concerned about how this land expropriation will affect their own livelihoods, as well as the natural environment.
In many areas of the world urban areas seem to be getting most of the resources and government support, at the expense of rural areas. During my field work in the rural areas of Iraqi Kurdistan I found that many people there wanted to move to cities to gain access to better jobs, health care and education opportunities, because these services were poor or unavailable in rural areas. Furthermore, they were often reporting lack of support and information from the government. We have similar issues and debates in Sweden, where the number of hospitals, schools and other basic services keep decreasing in rural areas. The most recent debate has been around a maternity ward shutting down in the north of Sweden, forcing expecting parents to drive 100 km to give birth. At the same time the rural areas of Sweden provide much of the forest and mineral resources that fund our welfare state.
Do we need rural areas to be populated? Is a country with 100% urban population a possible scenario? Is it a realistic aim? The general trend in the world is towards larger urban populations, but how far can we go? And to what extent is that a desired outcome? Perhaps removing humans from rural areas would, to some extent, relieve pressure on these areas and allow for more undisturbed environments. But are the rural populations more damaging to the environment than urban populations? Urban populations are largely relying on services from natural resources that cannot be extracted or harvested in urban areas.
There are a lot of questions and disagreements around whether or not the 2007-2009 drought in the Middle East played a role in the Syrian uprising. While some people (like Prince Charles or Al Gore) may see a clear link between the drought and the Syrian conflict, myself and several others try to highlight rural marginalization and vulnerability which caused inability among rural residents in Syria to cope with climate variability. I believe this shows the importance of allocating resources and services to rural areas, to support resilience as our climate becomes more variable.
I need to do a proper literature review on this subject but there seems to be parallels between many different areas across the world where urban is considered the norm, the desired state, and rural is in the periphery, the provider of resources. And if we’re aiming for equality in the world, we need to consider the needs of people residing in rural areas equally valid as the needs of people residing in urban areas. No?