Structuring an Index to Measure the Performance of South Asia’s Largest Cities with Comparator Cities in the Developing World

The need to develop a livability index for South Asian cities came from the fact that despite strong economic growth since the turn of the century, South Asia’s cities are, nevertheless, characterized by high levels of poverty, extremely poor housing conditions and generally poor levels of livability for large numbers of their inhabitants. Furthermore, the failure of South Asian urban areas to cope with urbanization is also reflected in the poor performance of the region’s largest cities in international rankings of cities by livability. At city level, there have been continuous efforts to measure livability with livability ranking publications and academic studies such as “EIU Livability Index”, “the International Living Quality of Life Index”, “the Australian Unity Well-being Index”, and so forth. But the team felt that a separate aggregated index of various factors is necessary to understand how South Asian cities compare with other cities of the developing world. This index aggregates four dimensions of education, health, safety, and the environment. Each dimension is composed of related sub-indicators selected considering appropriateness of measuring relevant performance and data availability at city level. We then conducted pairwise comparisons of levels of livability in Delhi, Karachi, Kathmandu and Dhaka with Istanbul (Turkey), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Medellin (Colombia) and Bogota (Colombia) respectively. For each pair, we chose the comparator city to match its South Asian counterpart as closely as possible across four different variables (city population, area of the city, city population density and estimated city GDP per capita). As expected, South Asian cities ranked less livable than their non-South Asian comparator. Furthermore, each South Asian city also tends to rank below its comparator on each of the four components of the index with the exception of the safety.