Multidimensional poverty in intermediate cities: the case of bahia blanca

Santos, Maria Emma (2018). 'Multidimensional Poverty in Intermediate Cities: The Case of Bahia Blanca' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


SDG 11 aims at making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, while SDG 1.2 aims at reducing at least by half the proportion of people living in poverty, in all its dimensions according to national definitions, and SDG 4 aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The capability approach is a particularly useful conceptual framework for assessing progress towards each of these closely interlinked goals because: a) it is intrinsically multidimensional, and reducing poverty in all its dimensions will necessarily entail advancing inclusive education, as well as making cities equitable; b) it focuses on the beings and doings of people, on their functionings, and thus it sets a more demanding standard in measuring progress, as opposed to –for example– access to resources.

This panel is composed of three papers implementing a set of methodologies in line with the human development and capability approach to assess poverty in a comprehensive way, in one important intermediate city of Argentina: Bahia Blanca. Intermediate cities are called to play a key role in the process of development of a country. They are the nexus between rural areas and big urban agglomerations; they can contribute to a balanced territorial development, reducing reliance on primate cities and promoting decentralised growth (UN-HABITAT, 2015).

Bahia Blanca is indeed a showcase of the potential and failures to fulfil such role. Located in the coastal side of Buenos Aires province, Bahia Blanca is one of the cities with highest population density in the south of Argentina, concentrating 301.000 people. The main economic activities are the industrial production –plastic, steel, biodiesel, liquid gas, fodder, chemical products, among others– associated to the industrial cluster located near the port, commercial activity, and exports of primary products (soy, wheat, corn, gas, oil) through one of the main ports of the country, Ing. White.

Despite its dynamic economic activity, Bahia Blanca has had a poor performance in several socioeconomic indicators. For example, in the third quarter of 2017 the unemployment rate was 8.3%, similar to the figure for all the urban agglomerations, but higher than the average unemployment rate of the other cities of similar size. The income poverty rate and the extreme income poverty rate in Bahia Blanca have been higher than the rate of all big urban agglomerations in several points in time and while the latest estimate (first semester 2017) is lower than the national average for big cities, it is still worrying, as it reveals 21% of the population in poverty and 4.6% in extreme poverty.

In other words, the city is not accomplishing the potential it can, given its population size and strategic location. This panel provides an assessment of the current situation and recent dynamics of the city in a number of key dimensions of development. This analysis can inform policy locally, but it can also offer insights both in terms of the methodologies used as well as of the empirical evidence to promote analysis and policy design in other intermediate cities in the country.

The first paper provides an overarching framework, as it assesses multidimensional poverty in the city between 2004 and 2017. The multidimensional poverty index covers five dimensions and twelve indicators: income, housing (housing materials, overcrowding and housing tenure), basic services (water, sanitation and energy), education (child school attendance and adult schooling), and employment and social protection (including access to health care). The second paper focuses on education, connecting evidence from field work in marginalised areas of the city with secondary data from censuses. The third paper adresses the issue of migration in the city, specially that of poor migrants. It assesses the geographical distribution of poverty and migrants and utilises a number of quantitative techniques to assess the difficulties of poor migrants in integrating into the social network.

While this panel focuses on one specific city, we understand that both the methodologies and results can illuminate the case of other intermediate cities.

The three papers are framed into four interlinked research projects. The paper on multidimensional poverty in Bahia Blanca belongs to a CONICET project (PIP No 11220150100659CO, entitled “Poverty in Bahía Blanca: Measurement, Characterization, Causes, Impacts and Policy”); the paper on education in informal settlements belongs to a CIN-CONICET PDTS (entitled “Diseño de estrategias para mejorar las oportunidades educativas de la población vulnerable de Bahía Blanca a través de la ONG Red de Voluntarios”) and to an UNS project (“Ventana a la realidad socioeconómica, VERSE”). The three papers fall within an overarching CONICET research project: Proyecto de Unidad Ejecutora (PUE) of the Instituto de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales del Sur (IIESS), on Vulnerability and Social Exclusion in Bahia Blanca, directed by Dr. Silvia London.

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