By Tong Niu:
Picture single-roomed shacks constructed from thin, oil-stained blankets. A child in pink sandals wash chipped dishes in a white bucket, rocky land and hand washed laundry littered in the background. A trash chocked river separates these ramshackle homes from the row of apartment buildings on the other side. This may not be the image that comes to mind when one envisions a sprawling city, however, this scenario is becoming increasingly commonplace among urbanizing countries.
Rapid urbanization in developing nations is leading to the creation of slums, dropping living standards in urban areas and causing serious environmental damage. These industrializing countries cannot adapt to the influx of rural immigrants, and if left untreated, uncontrolled urbanization will not only slow the city’s development but also the nation’s ability to modernize.
Urbanization is usually something to rejoice about. Characterized by mass migration of rural populations (usually farmers) to city areas, urbanization is most rapid in developing, third world countries and shows a transition from an agricultural economy to an industrialized one. The Industrial Revolution starting in the 18th century is what propelled the United States and England into becoming major superpowers. However, current urbanization is causing more bad than good.
Rural migration to cities is usually caused by economic or personal problems. According to an article published by the University of Michigan in 2002, titled “Urbanization and Global Change,” developing countries, in an attempt to pay off foreign debt and bolster their financial standings, encourage exportation of natural resources. This includes agricultural produce, minerals, timber and fish. To harvest these products efficiently and economically, governments decrease the number of small producers, such as small family farms or companies, in favor of larger corporations. This causes many to pack up their belongings and move to urban neighborhoods in search of better job opportunities.
Just to highlight a few of these urbanizing nations, according to the World Development Indicators Database, the fastest growing nation, Rwanda, has an urban growth rate of 7.6% each year. East Timor follows closely with 6.88%, Afghanistan with 5.82%, Pakistan with 3.45%, Bangladesh with 3.38%, China with 2.95% and India with 2.07% annually. These percentages may seem insignificant, but looking at specific urban populations, Indian, with the lowest urban growth rate out of the nations mentioned, has over 300 million people living in metropolitan regions. Compared to its total population, one out of every three people live in the city, and this number continues to grow by over 2% each year.
Urbanization rates are astounding, but even more shocking are the consequences of this fast-paced development. The emergence of slums poses a huge problem. With so many people coming in, overcrowding forces many to live in unsafe conditions, including shacks and illegal buildings. Not only are the rooms small and cramped, but the buildings themselves aren’t regulated by the government and therefore, prone to accidents. Recently, on November 17, 2010, an illegal building collapsed, killing the many residents inside and destroying the few precious possessions of others. Despite these dangers, many still choose to live in these buildings, often ten or more to a room.
Roads are always congested and ill-equipped to handle the influx of workers. Sewers, water lines, electricity and other necessities are always lacking, lowering inner-city living standards and adding to the pollution of air and nearby water sources. If the government continues to ignore the mounting problems caused by unregulated urbanization, these mass migrations can destroy the cities that were on its way to becoming modernized and hinder the overall development of the country.
To solve this issue, governments must limit urban migrations by supporting family farms. They must standardize the admittance of people into urban areas, ensuring that all who do move to a city is housed in safe, legally sanctioned buildings. They should revitalize slums by attracting businesses, lowering crime and improving schools. This would allow the fading urban districts to regain the vitality it once had.
As more and more nations begin to industrialize and modernize, we must watch out for the problems caused by these expansions. Urbanization should be encouraged and should not have to come with slum formation and environmental pollution. By regulating the pace at which a nation urbanizes, we can encourage development while limiting its negative side effects.