Megacity Security: Challenges and Opportunities Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma

I would like to thank Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. and his team at the Atlantic Council, the India Foundation, and the distinguished speakers who have come from around the world to support this conference.  It is a pleasure to be here in Mumbai to speak on the subject of Megacity Security.

Recent events in Paris, Bamako, and Beirut have sadly focused the world’s attention again on the scourge of terrorism, a tragedy experienced acutely in this city.  Here in this room, we are joined in sympathy for the victims of terrorism, both in Paris and elsewhere.  The Paris assaults were, as President Obama stated, “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”   But as our leaders have pledged, we are united with the nations of the world, and together we can defeat the terrorists and their ideologies of hate.  Efforts to ensure megacity security, though focused on many different aspects, must be a part of our shared response.

Mumbai is truly a megacity – it is one of about 30 cities around the world with a population greater than 10 million people.  In light of its history, and its importance to the national and international economy, I could not think of a more appropriate place than Mumbai to hold a Megacity Security Conference.

The world is undergoing a demographic transition unprecedented in history.  Urbanization is increasing across the world, including and especially here in India, as more and more people flock to metropolises in search of greater opportunity and a better future.  Technological innovations are transforming society, including facilitating greater migration from rural areas.  More robust and affordable transportation networks enable people to move more easily from rural to urban areas, as well as between cities.  The spread of cellular networks and advances in communications technology have exposed rural populations to the allure of cities like never before.  Changing weather patterns and rising temperatures due to climate change are affecting economic and living conditions, particularly in rural areas, prompting flight to cities.  We also see mass migrations due to conflict as endangered populations look for safer places to work and raise their families.

My hope is that this conference on Megacity Security will serve as a catalyst to develop lasting networks between the different cities represented here.  Through these networks, we can begin a new dialogue to prepare for continued and intensified urbanization, and the significant challenges it will entail.

Megacities: Unprecedented Global Urbanization

In 1950, there were only two megacities: New York and Tokyo.  In 1975, Mexico City became the world’s third megacity.  Today, there are approximately 30 megacities – cities with more than 10 million people.  In India alone, there already are three: Mumbai, New Delhi, and Kolkata.  By 2030, it is estimated an additional dozen cities will be added to the list, creating more than 40 megacities around the world.

The ongoing shift in population from rural to urban areas is unprecedented in human history.  A hundred years ago, just 2 out of 10 people lived in cities.  Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities.  In the early 1800s, London and Beijing were the only two cities in the world with 1 million people.  Now, there are at least 450.  Beyond the growing list of megacities, more than 40 “large” cities have populations between 5 to 10 million people.  Worldwide, approximately 200,000 people per day are migrating from rural to urban areas.  This is uncharted territory.

As we look at the decades ahead, all indices and projections signal even greater urbanization.  According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, by 2050 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities.  Some of this growth will take place in up and coming cities, but much of it will happen in existing megacities.  Lagos, for example, is expected to double in size over the next 30 years.  Dhaka takes in almost 400,000 rural migrants each year.

Which parts of the world will see the greatest urbanization?  It won’t be in North America or Western Europe.  Rather, it will be in Africa and Asia.  The UN predicts the global population will increase by 2.5 billion over the next 35 years, with 90 percent of this growth concentrated in Africa and Asia.  Indeed, the fastest-growing megacities over the past ten years have been Karachi, Lagos, Dhaka, Delhi, and Jakarta.

What are the trends for India?  The UN has estimated India’s urban population will increase by nearly 250 million people over the next 20 years.  China and India account for 30 percent of the world’s urban population, and their share is going to increase in the coming decades.  Current projections estimate India’s urban population will grow more rapidly than in China, South America, or the west.  In addition to India’s three current megacities, it is expected there will be four more by 2030: Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad.  New Delhi is projected to become the world’s second-largest city by 2030 with a population of 36 million.

Megacities: Promise and Risk

What does the future have in store for us in a world of continued urbanization?  On the one hand, I am optimistic.  The world’s megacities can be engines of growth and prosperity.  Around the world, cities have been hubs of innovation.  The promise of a city lies in the fact that the intersection of industries, markets, and labor in one locality can fuel innovative thinking and economic opportunity.  Indeed, the World Bank estimates 80 percent of the world’s GDP is generated in urban areas.

Under the right conditions and with the right governance and policies, megacities can lead the way on strategies for economic development, public health, environmental protection and climate change, and security.  New York, Tokyo, and even a more recent megacity like Seoul stand out as examples.  As its population has grown to make it one of the world’s megacities, Seoul has become a high-tech hub that is a destination for venture capital, boasts the fastest internet connectivity in the world, and is home to Google’s first Asian campus.  With good governance and effective planning, megacities can thrive.

While I am optimistic about the promise of megacities, I also am realistic.  Their success isn’t guaranteed—far from it.  Megacities are unique because of their scale and enormity.  Additionally, when we survey the highest urbanization rates around the world, they are taking place in countries that already have some of the largest political, economic, and social challenges. As a result, the security risks facing megacities are profound.  Let me mention two such risks.

One threat is from terrorism, as this city knows all too well.  While the confluence of government, industry, and finance creates a unique dynamism in cities, the concentration of critical infrastructure and mass transit systems also creates vulnerabilities.  If you look at the world’s top 30 megacities a common characteristic among them, regardless of geography or level of economic development, is that they have suffered terrorist attacks.  The people of Tokyo, Jakarta, Manila, Karachi, New York, Mumbai, Bangkok, Dhaka, Istanbul, Lagos, Paris, and London have all seen first-hand the horrors terrorists can inflict.

Social media platforms are enabling radicalization, recruitment, and networking among like-minded individuals from afar.  The return of foreign fighters from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria also casts ominous shadows.  More so than ever before, small groups and individuals have access to lethal and even military-grade technologies that give them the ability to attack a city’s functioning.  Communications and transportation networks essential to the daily livelihood in cities also can serve as enablers that allow groups to recruit and maintain networks with relative anonymity.  Even smart cities, which offer the promise of a greener and more sustainable future, can be vulnerable to cyberattacks.

The second potential security challenge comes from the inability of megacities to uphold their end of the social contract through effective governance and service provision.  Some of our most famous philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Machiavelli argued that cities would provide greater justice, order, and provision of services.  But the historical record is rather mixed.  Often, megacities are home to youth unemployment, internally displaced, international migrants, ethnic and religious tensions, and vast public corruption.  Environmental and health challenges can be immense.  Daily news reports and social media content reveal a cautionary tale about what happens when rapid and massive urbanization outpaces infrastructure development and the provision of government services.  Joblessness grows, resources become limited, populations congregate in substandard housing, and environmental problems are exacerbated.  Research shows us that people living in urban slums are more likely to be affected by child mortality, acute respiratory illnesses, and water-borne diseases as sewage goes untreated.  Air pollution is often pervasive, as I see each day in Delhi, which is said to have the worst air conditions of any major city in the world.  Some megacities even have life expectancies that are considerably lower than the national average, yet continue to act as magnets attracting rural populations.

As cities grow even larger, governments will come under even greater pressure to provide essential services such as clean water, sanitation, transportation, and police protection.  If they fail to deliver, they run the risk of popular unrest.  We’ve already seen it happen.  Water shortages in Sao Paulo, for example, have led to massive protests, some of them violent.  Similarly, citizens in China tired of haze and respiratory illness have protested government policies regarding air pollution.

Marginalized urban populations facing grinding poverty and squalor can also become vulnerable to criminal gangs, organized crime, and even terrorist recruitment.  Poor governance can allow these groups to form and even thrive.

Megacities: The Way Forward

So, given the complex challenges facing the world’s cities, where do we go from here?  Each city will have to design and implement policies that best meet their unique local needs.  However, as a starting point, there are specific steps that all cities can take to make themselves and their people more secure.

1. Local Solutions

Since 9/11, much of the discussion, thinking, and resources dedicated to counterterrorism have been between nation states.  Over the past few years, however, policymakers and thinkers have come to recognize the important role cities themselves should play in formulating security policy.  There is merit to this approach.  As the frontlines for preventing, preparing for, and responding to security threats, any successful strategy to protect megacities will need to have the cities in the lead.  Local leaders, rather than national capitals, best understand and can best meet local needs.

National governments will continue to have a critical role to play in providing safety and security.  For example, they transfer much-needed resources to localities, and they coordinate planning across cities and states.  However, local leaders are best positioned to identify sources of unrest and strife; handle signs of danger; and recognize and accommodate local cultures, traditions, and sensitivities.  They are the first stop for citizen engagement with government and responsible for service provision.  They are charged with keeping our streets and neighborhoods safe.

2. City-to-City Partnerships

Another way for megacities to devise best policies is through greater engagement with other cities of the same size and scale.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to policing, for example, but there are commonalities among megacities, and the experience of one city can be instructive to another.  Sharing lessons learned, tactics, intelligence, and even technology can lead to scaling of best practices and formulation of new and innovative approaches.  This sort of cooperation is already happening on an ad hoc basis, but it should be enhanced, routinized, and more comprehensive in scope.

Some cities in the United States are working with their counterparts in India to form collaborative partnerships.  After the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the Los Angeles Police Department sent over a team to study the attacks and the Mumbai police response.  When they returned to the United States, LAPD evolved its Multiple Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities Training based on the Mumbai experience, which its officers then presented to 64 cities around the United States.  LAPD changed their training and strategy, as well as port security measures based on what they learned here.  Similarly, in December 2013, U.S. law enforcement officials joined the U.S.-India Police Chiefs Conference in New Delhi and visited other cities around the country, which gave them an opportunity to learn about Indian policing techniques.

Just last month, senior police from Mumbai participated in an exchange with the New York Police Department to observe their operations and facilities with a particular focus on counterterrorism, crisis preparedness, and emergency response.  The exchange, which included sessions with the NYPD Intelligence and Counterterrorism Unit and a Security Coordination Center, gave both police forces the opportunity to share best practices for protecting critical infrastructure and responding to security threats.  We have additional exchanges like this one planned for the near future that will further deepen cooperation between our local law enforcement agencies.

3. Deploying New Technologies

In addition to new partnerships, new technology also has an important role to play in megacity security.  New York’s COMPSTAT program became an international model for analyzing police data to identify crime hotspots, allowing them to allocate police resources more effectively.  Bogota adopted a similar approach.  In both cases, smarter policing led to reduced crime rates.  Cities around the world are turning to social media for threat updates and traffic information.  An effective crowdsourcing mobile application or program for integrating and analyzing crowdsourced data in one megacity could become a model for other cities around the world.  India’s Megacity Policing program adopts CCTV and aerial surveillance technology, as well as multi-agency fusion centers.  If successful, other cities could follow India’s lead.

4. Public-Private Partnerships

Around the world, the role of the private sector within intelligence, cybersecurity, and even transportation security is expanding.  Public-private partnerships in the security sector will only become more important.  In fact, one set of scholars called public-private partnerships “the most dynamic and important subjects for homeland security practitioners today.”

In the United States, the private sector owns and operates an estimated 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure.  As a result, strong public-private partnerships are essential for keeping these assets secure.  In other countries, critical infrastructure might fall under the supervision of a government ministry or state-run company with security provided by local law enforcement or the military.  In these cases, there might be no or little role for the private sector.  Cybsersecurity is another example of strong public-private collaboration in the United States.  The National Cyber Security Alliance brings together government and the private sector to formulate cybsersecurity policy and generate awareness.  The Alliance’s private sector members include companies such as AT&T, Cisco Systems, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.  A growing number of companies, including some of those here at the conference like Microsoft, Honeywell, Larson &Tubro, and Mahindra, are developing security solutions for law enforcement agencies and governments.  Increasingly, governments will be unable to secure the world’s cities on their own.  Just as cooperation should be expanded between cities, it also should be expanded within cities, and public-private partnerships are one way to do so.

5. Inclusive Governance

A last factor in megacity security that I would like to address is governance.  The ways in which megacities serve and engage their populations are critical components of effective security policy.  While policing strategy and technological innovation address the symptoms of risk, they do not root out the underlying factors creating risk, or necessarily build trust.  Local governments must be responsive, operate transparently, and promote inclusiveness if they are to reduce the motivation for popular unrest.  The diversity that exists in megacities can be of great advantage for generating innovative thinking and cultural vibrancy.  Reaping the benefits of diversity, though, requires governments to create an ecosystem of social cohesion where all members of society feel like they are valued stakeholders.  Policies that either actively marginalize populations, or prevent inclusion can put our cities at risk.

Speaking at a recent conference on Strong Cities, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made this very point.  While law enforcement plays a crucial role in protecting people, Mayor de Blasio explained, security goes far beyond law enforcement.  Cities need to promote youth leadership opportunities, improve education, provide economic opportunity, and offer effective social and health services.  Governing in this way will integrate the residents of a city, regardless of origin, ethnicity, or background, into the fabric of civic life.

Security frameworks, for example, that include community engagement and confidence-building measures are the ones most likely to succeed.  Already, community policing and similar initiatives have proven to be an important part of effective policing in cities around the world.  In Chicago’s Alternative Policing Strategy, for example, a core component has been mobilizing the public.  Over a 10-year period, thanks to this strategy robberies dropped 58 percent and fear of crime fell by 20 percent.  A similar strategy in Sao Paolo reduced murder rates in the world’s most violent neighborhood by 73 percent in a 5-year period.  Two years ago in New York, the city ended the practice of stop and frisk due to the negative effects it had on relationships with local minority communities.  The city also shut down a demographics unit that had become a source of divisiveness.  Taking steps to bring communities closer together, according to Mayor de Blasio, has had a positive effect in New York.

U.S.-India Cooperation on Homeland Security

I am proud to say the United States and India are working closely on these sorts of security issues, as well as livability in cities.  In 2011, we created the U.S.-India Homeland Security Dialogue, which was the first comprehensive bilateral dialogue on homeland security issues between our two countries.  The dialogue covers a wide range of activities linked to enhancing homeland security cooperation.  Engagement between our Department of Homeland Security and India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has reinforced our strategic homeland security partnership.  It also has enhanced operational cooperation in investigations, capacity building, and countering threats.  We hope to routinize the exchange of security experts and build cooperative efforts to further our mutual counterterrorism goals.

Our Department of State Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) program, operated by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, provided training to over 250 Indian law enforcement officers over the past year, both at courses in India and the United States.  Each year, we hold on average 10 ATA training courses for Indian law enforcement officials in areas such as Senior Crisis Management, investigative techniques, explosive incident countermeasures, and community policing.  This program has been a great partnership that “trains the trainer”, and enhances the capability of thousands of police officers across India.

Outside of law enforcement and security cooperation, we are partnering to make India’s cities more livable.  For example, we are lead partners in developing three of India’s smart cities: Ajmer, Visakhapatnam, and Allahabad.  Our U.S. Agency for International Development, through the Urban India Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Alliance, is supporting India’s urban development and Clean India initiatives.  We also are partnering for development of renewable energy sources, including investment in clean energy projects in India, and to improve air quality.

Megacities: Hope for the Future

Without a doubt, the challenges facing the world’s growing number of megacities are immense.  But, as I said, I am optimistic.  Megacities have the potential to vastly improve human welfare.  Through the right policies and good governance, they can offer the people of the world incredible economic opportunity.  They also bring together the collective expertise needed to tackle some of the world’s most vexing problems.

Governing the world’s megacities will only become more challenging in the coming decades.  Governments, including civilian leadership, law enforcement, and the military, must work together not only within their own borders, but also with those cities facing similar issues and challenges.  The best chance we have for governing in such a complex environment is to develop domestic and international networks that enable local governments and communities to share best practices and lessons learned.  Only through collective thought and partnership can we harness the concentration of skills and technical resources in the world’s cities that will increase wealth and improve the quality of life.

This Megacity Security Conference can be a starting point for building an international dialogue that guides both policy and governance decisions.  No one city can do this alone; these are challenges we must tackle together.

Thank you.