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IRAN: Focus on reverse migration
TEHRAN , 18 Nov 2003 (IRIN
) - Ra'nah
Rahmani works as a cleaner in the wealthy suburbs of north Tehran, the capital.
Six days a week, eight hours a day, the chatty 32-two-year-old cooks and cleans
for Tehran's elite, earning US $250 a month. She has almost tripled her salary
since she moved to Tehran 14 years ago from her remote village, Khoshk in
northeastern Iran, and says a new government pilot scheme aimed at encouraging
rural migrants to return to their villages of origin from cities will not
Iran has one of the highest
urban-growth rates in the
"There's hardly anyone left in Khoshk.
Most of my friends have gone, and the ones that haven't, are just waiting to
leave," she told IRIN.
STEEP URBAN GROWTH
Iran has one of
the highest urban-growth rates in the world. In 1950, about 27 percent of the
population was urban; now the figure has more than doubled, to 65 percent, and a
UN report predicts that by 2030, that percentage will shoot up to nearly 80 - an
unprecedented figure for a developing country.
The result of this
population shift is that cities have been unable to keep up with the population
explosion. NGOs say slum areas, high unemployment, poor public services and a
depressed economy are direct results of mass urbanisation.
The government's initiative - dubbed the
"reverse-migration initiative", to be launched in Rahmani's home province of
Khorasan, is a five-year plan which will plough much-needed money into
regenerating rural areas. By investing in local industries, farming and public
services, the government hopes to create jobs and stimulate agricultural
production, which has been in steady decline since the 1960s.
Islamic deputy councillor of Khorasan, Abbas Ali Ornaghi, hopes that the pilot
scheme will succeed. "We have to consider that employment is one of the biggest
issues for most migrants. We know that most of our villagers have the capability
of agricultural work, therefore investment in those areas will be a solution,"
he told the Iranian daily, Hamshahri.
But for people like Rahmani,
returning to the old way of life - farming - is not an option. "In my village,
we used to cultivate the land and grow saffron and barberries. But the physical
labour is hard - our bodies aren't used to it, as we haven't been brought up
doing it. We wouldn't survive," she said.
For decades, the government has
been researching ways to curb the steady stream of migrants like Rahmani to the
cities. For this latest project, Ferdowsi University in Khorasan is sharing its
independent research findings on rural to urban migration with the
NEED FOR JOBS IN RURAL AREAS
"When you start to
create jobs and facilities in villages, slowly reverse migration will happen. To
create or plan the policy of reverse migration, investment is the key to
success," Dr Dariush Haidari-Bigvand, the head of the research project at
Ferdowsi University, told IRIN. "Through proper investment you can create
employment, which in turn brings with it good facilities in the small villages,"
But Babak Dorbeiki, a senior consultant at an Iranian economic
and political consulting firm, says Iran, being such a centralised country, has
created a pro-urban mentality. Government industrialisation policies, he says,
have made the cities dream destinations for villagers, and no amount of
investment will change this.
"Migration in Iran does not solely depend
on economic factors, and many more factors, such as security, social and
cultural viewpoints, are involved. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the
government had a new approach to economy, and agriculture was its priority. So
the government focused mostly on rural developments, such as water-network
development, electrification and road construction," he told IRIN.
"Most of these plans were utilised in deprived
regions, such as Khorasan. Nevertheless, migration in these provinces continued,
which means government investments won't guarantee the decrease in the migration
process," he said.
Dorbeiki cites Namak, in Khorasan, as an example: a
small, deprived village with a population of around 3,000 before the 1979
revolution. The government invested heavily in local facilities and services
there as incentives for the villagers to stay. But electricity, water networks
and new schools were not enough to stop Namakis from leaving.
Ra'nah Rahmani doesn't believe the
government's efforts will
According to Dorbeiki,
the number of people leaving the village actually continued to rise. Now, the
population of Namak is under 500 - even though the population growth rate in
rural areas is increasing rapidly and at a higher rate than in urban areas. This
for Dorbeiki is proof that no amount of investment in rural areas can halt
Meanwhile, most experts agree that the project will not
succeed without help from the private sector.
There are no shops in
Khoshk: if Rahmani wanted to buy onions, she had to take the daily bus to the
nearest town of Qa'en - a two-hour ride. There is only one school, with only one
class, and as it's a primary school, Rahmani's two teenage girls would have to
make the long journey to Qa'en.
"We'd love to be able to go back to our
village, but we just can't - there are no jobs, no shops and no money. And all
the springs have dried out," Rahmani said. "In Tehran, it's polluted, and I
worry about the kids - it's dangerous here, it's not like in the village. But at
least here I can work as a cleaner - I can't even work
Haidari-Bigvand's research indicates that the reverse-migration
project will work. If it is a success in Khorasan - the largest province in Iran
- the government hopes to implement it country-wide.
"When villagers in
big cities find out they can work in their birthplace, where they will have
health care, education, and even a big supermarket, they will start to move away
from the noise and pollution of the city, and the social problems like crime and
drugs," he told IRIN. "If the government invests properly in villages, the
success rate will be 100 percent," he added.
Rahmani disagrees. "It'll
never happen; there are some villagers who will never return. They've got their
lives here now, this is their home."
The above artivle comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but
may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All
materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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