Unravelling the socio-cultural-environmental constructs of periurbanisation
The dynamics that surround a peri urban interface (PUI) anywhere in the world are riddled with challenges because of their constantly evolving nature. Characterised as a mosaic of different land uses inhabited by communities of different economic levels, interfaces in developing countries, particularly, are in a state of rapid change with lack of infrastructure and a fast deteriorating ecological environment. As transition zones that are entirely rural at one end and urban at the other, they are witness to rural and urban household strategies that overlap in the face of rapid development.
Communities that inhabit these spaces are mostly engaged in informal and agricultural activities and are socially and economically disadvantaged. Small dairies and other businesses that are run here produce milk, vegetables, flowers and poultry, mostly for urban consumption. Owing to poor management and regulation, they tend to get converted into dumping grounds for solid wastes, leading to high levels of polluted effluents and sewage. So, inspite of being within the planning areas they remain outside administrative boundaries of cities. Not surprisingly, the scenario perpetuates proliferation of urban sprawls that are mostly unauthorised along with squatter settlements monopolised by illegal structures that threaten the environment and quality of life, destroying open spaces and increasing traffic, air and noise pollution.
Precariously balanced with socio-economic complexities and environmental impact
Peri urban fringes feel the pressure of development and modernisation because they offer opportunities for low cost industrial activity, offering cheaper land, water and unskilled labour. These have an impact on the local population, families, women, children and the overall environment creating its own set of complexities.
Continuous and uneven process of urbanisation: Bulk of the social dynamism and flux in these settings comes from migrants and new settlers. These social changes and transitions have spin-off effects in the range of economic activities they foster. Survival is a primary concern, leading to intense land speculation, shifting of economic activities on the basis of productivity and emergence of informal and often illegal activities such as clandestine abattoirs, dairy and livestock farming, businesses that entail intensive use of agro-chemicals and fertilisers for horticultural production, mining or quarrying activities for supply of building materials and other cottage industries.
Consequently, the social composition of peri-urban systems is highly heterogeneous and subject to change over time. Small farmers, informal settlers, industrial entrepreneurs and urban middle-class commuters can surely co-exist in this territory, but with different and often competing interests, practices and perceptions. This makes it difficult to establish clear and well defined institutional arrangements that can deal effectively with the long-term management of natural resources and the enhancement of livelihoods of those living and working in the PUI.
Cultural and social practices that impact zoonotic transmission: These factors lead to environment deterioration. With human-animal contact and interaction being highly dependent on cultural constructs woven around animals, the peri-domestic canine ecology is constantly shaped by traditional and modern social drivers. This has a critical influence on public health interventions, especially in the area of zoonoses. For meaningful outcomes, science of multi-disciplinary collaborations must provide actionable information for cross-sector initiatives through programmes that involve actors from human health, animal health, agriculture and animal husbandry, wildlife, entomology, regulatory bodies and related industry and market.
The inequitable gender dynamics that exist in these settings is a result of traditional socio-cultural practices. Role of women in peri urban settings remains compromised with their contribution not adequately acknowledged while they are expected to shoulder a large part of the economic activity. Dwindling physical spaces, feminisation of the workforce, lack of basic infrastructure, health-compromising practices and low level of awareness on zoonoses are challenges that grip these PUIs.
Environmental impact of peri urban formations: Environmental transformations in the peri-urban to a large extent happen due to pressures exerted by external and nearby systems. These include inadequate development processes, unequal distribution of services and investments, pathetic conditions of the natural environment, inadequate localisation and functioning of economic activities, absence of adequate services, lopsided demographic growth and absence of institutional management capacities. Peri urban areas are also vulnerable to climate change because they neither have the modern infrastructure nor clean water and sanitation systems that urban residents have.
Way forward and the RCZI response
To bring about higher levels of sustainability at the PUI, environmental, economic and social goals will have to be synergised with political and institutional measures. The concept of sustainable development itself has taken root very recently in Indian conditions and it requires much more study and research to understand the process of peri-urban formation, the socioeconomic changes that are taking place over time and space and in the process, and the extent of exploitation of natural resources that take place in these settings. Currently, there is very little information on the relationship between socioeconomic characteristics and the environmental change that is taking place during the formation of these peri-urban areas. More studies emanating from urban and regional planners, social scientists, geographers and NGOs will have to be conducted to generate a greater body of evidence that throws light on each of these complex interactions.
As part of the four-year PHFI/RCZI-ILRI Research Initiative on Peri-Urban Human-Animal-Environment Interface, several stakeholder mapping exercises will be conducted. Some of the outcomes from the stakeholder analyses will guide institutional networks and capacity enhancing initiatives around existing services within the peri-urban domain. Effort would be made to steer ongoing human and animal health programmes in a way that they base themselves on the One Health approach. This, along with engaged research and action with the community, drawing upon the terrain of public health anthropology, will help demystify the cultural and societal drivers of zoonosis that exist in these settings.
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Narain V. Anand P. Banerjee P. Periurbanization in India: A review of the literature and evidence [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2015 Sept 10]. Available from: http://www.saciwaters.org/east-west-center/pdf/status-paper.pdf