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Urbanization in the developing world

A Boon or a bane

Whether urbanization is good or bad is a matter of debate; chiefly for the developing world. In the developing world, status of urbanization is under observation owing to its varying impacts. Advent of modern urbanization took place after Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. After that an unstoppable flow of masses from rural to urban and from smaller urban units to the larger ones continued. People moved from rural areas to the newly-established urban centres in search of non’ agro jobs and the process continued in hunt of better living standards. But the way urbanization has been carried out in the LDCs has created doubts in the minds of demographers about its viability.
According to the UN State of the World Population 2007 report, it is estimated that 93 per cent of urban growth will occur in developing nations, with 80 per cent of urban growth occurring in Asia and Africa.
In most part of the developing world, urbanization started during 20th century. According to the UN State of the World Population 2007 Report, it is estimated that 93 per cent of urban growth will occur in developing nations, with 80 per cent of urban growth occurring in Asia and Africa. As most of the developed world is already urbanized i.e. UK is 90 per cent, Australia is 89 per cent, USA 82 per cent and Canada 80 per cent. The global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13 per cent (220 million) in 1900, to 29 per cent (732 million) in 1950, to 49 per cent (3.2 billion) in 2005. The same report projected that the figure is likely to rise to 60 per cent (4.9 billion) by 2030. India’s urban population is also increasing at a faster rate than its total population. With over 575 million people, India will have 41 per cent of its population living in cities and towns by 2030 AD from the present level of 286 million i.e. 28 per cent.

Developing economies have been predominantly agrarian in nature. Therefore, they are rural as well. Advent of urbanization and industrialization posed huge challenges to them. For developing economies, while living in global economic system of communication and free trade, it is hard to ignore the changes in the western world and even harder to follow those changes at the same pace. Therefore, in search of non’ agro economic activities, when the rural influx of masses in the developing countries started moving to the urban units, its impacts were relatively different from that of urbanization in 19th century Europe. Urbanization is meant to bring development of infrastructure, better socioeconomic indicators, better living standards, food security and so on. But for developing world, it has been having variable impacts owing to its unplanned and unforeseen nature.
In Pakistan, from 1947 till now, urbanization is on the rise. Currently, Pakistan is the most urbanized country in the region with 36.5 per cent urbanized population in comparison to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who have 29 per cent, 15 per cent and 28 per cent urbanized population respectively. This migration from rural to urban centres is directly related to transformation of rural economy in Pakistan. The agriculture sector contributed more than half of GDP in 1949-50, but it declined to 20 per cent of GDP in 2010-11. Over the same period, manufacturing share in GDP increased from 8 to 26 per cent, and shares of services and trade sectors also increased from 25 to 51 per cent. The share of agriculture labour force has declined, from 65 per cent in 1951 to 48 per cent in 2003.

One of the most serious impacts of urbanization on the LDCs is housing problem, swelling squatters and urban poverty.  At least one in every three city dwellers in Pakistan lives in a slum. Many migrants do not find jobs in the formal sector and a shelter with a minimum of basic amenities. Informal sector provides employment to most migrants and they gravitate to squatter colonies where they build some kind of shelter for themselves. As a result, slum and marginal human settlements have spread in most urban localities. These settlements are generally characterised by the absence or severe lack of basic infrastructure. In the Asia-pacific region, the urban population inhabiting such settlements ranges from a low 15 per cent in Singapore to over 50 per cent in Mumbai and Delhi. In Pakistan, the proportion of urban population living in slums varies from 35 per cent to 50 per cent. Asia has been witnessing the triple dynamics of growth, rapid urbanization and growing poverty. International reports have identified that there are over 80 million poor people living in the cities and towns of India. The Slum population is also increasing and over 61.80 million people are living in slums. In Pakistan, every year, there is a shortage of at least 50,000 housing units that leaves many urban dwellers shelterless.

Next alarming problem are the environmental degradation and traffic congestion. Every kind of pollution is increasingly becoming part of urban centres. Major urban centres in the developing world are listed high among most polluted cities. For example, recently widening of Canal Road in Lahore is a mega project in order to accommodate more vehicles on the roads at the expense of environment. So the mindset clearly reflects that urbanization and development is taking place at the cost of environment. This process of development is also contributing to global warming. The total number of vehicles, excluding hundreds of thousands of rickshaws and motorbikes, across Pakistan is now 5.67 million. Despite the fact that almost half of the vehicles are being run on CNG, air pollution continues to be a major concern. Lahore leads as the most polluted city, followed by Islamabad, the only properly planned city. Peshawar stands at 3rd position regarding air pollution while Karachi comes at the 4th.

Low living standards is the main drawback of this unplanned and unrestricted urbanization in LDCs. Provision of food, education, health and life security is becoming increasingly challenging for the administrative authorities. With increased poverty and rising inflation, food insecurity is a long-grown issue. Larger influx in cities with relatively high population growth rate needs more educational institutions for kids. However, such is not the case in LDCs. Moreover, health sector is tumbling down due to bad sanitation conditions, unhygienic food and insufficient health facilities. To quote one example, there is 1 doctor in Pakistan for over 130 patients and around 1 nurse for every 1300 patients. This highlights the deficiency of facilities, manpower and equipment in developing countries due to rapid urbanization.

In Pakistan, from 1947 till now, urbanization is growing. Currently, Pakistan is the most urbanized country in the region with 36.5 per cent urbanized population in comparison to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who have 29 per cent, 15 per cent and 28 per cent urbanized population respectively.
Energy, water & food crises are the three most important and worrisome problems originated from urbanization. Increased demand in cities and industrial centres or resources has never been fulfilled due to inability to generate at that pace. Therefore, problems have multiplied. Pakistan is suffering from serious energy shortage and almost at the verge of being declared as drought prone due to lack of water resources. Food inflation has seen double figures as well. This indicates that urbanization leads to an increased pressure on existing resources and due to non-availability of resources that ultimately leads to disasterlike situation for the LDCs. Water, energy and food shortage clearly call for economic bankruptcy, social disorder and chaos and probably wars for resources that are still continuing in the world. Hunt for oil is already going on; however, times are not far when water wars will be much talked about event. Therefore, there is a dire need of realisation that such unplanned and irrational movement of population from rural to urban areas is not beneficial at all when resources are depleting and capacity is restricted.

To cap it all, in a nutshell it can be said that urbanization in the developing world is magnifying the already existing problems. It is turning available opportunities in to bigger challenges and causing serious damages socially as well as economically. So there is a dire need to check this unrestricted flow of masses from rural to urban centers. Now this is only possible in the following way. First, try to build agriculture sector as much as possible on modern lines. This can be done once the governments decide in a longer run which path they have to follow. Long term consistent policies for the agriculture sector will never bar their agricultural growth and ultimately economic growth. Second, emphasis should be laid on developing new and smaller urban centers rather than attracting more and more people to a huge metropolitan or mega polis. This will share the infrastructural burden of large cities. Third, establishment of cottage industry is a must. Without small scale industry it is nearly impossible to employ and feed the population because major chunk of population coming to cities cannot become the part of formal economic sector. Fourth, it is important that low-income housing projects should be encouraged at national level such as Khuda ki Basti project. This will provide shelter to the homeless poor. Fifthly, traffic control should be done by restricting the private vehicles flow into cities and ensuring availability of public transport everywhere in town. Lastly, environmental protection and resource conservation should be enforced rigorously by the administrative authorities so that the purpose id fulfilled.

By: Sikander Zishan

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