(Article) CSM - September 2013: Urbanisation and its Hazards (2008)

Urbanisation and its Hazards (2008)

Urbanization refers to general increase in population and the amount of industrialization of a settlement. It includes increase in the number and extent of cities. It symbolizes the movement of people from rural to urban areas. Urbanization happens because of the increase in the extent and density of urban areas. The density of population in urban areas increases because of the migration of people from less industrialized regions to more industrialized areas. The concept “Urban Sprawl” means increase in spatial scale or increase in the peripheral area of cities. “Urban Sprawl” has its own drawbacks.

The city and its infrastructure may not be adequately planned.

Traffic is high with increased time needed for commuting.

Essential services are not reachable within time.

City administration becomes extremely difficult.

An excellent example of urban sprawl within our country is that of the city of Bangalore. After the establishment of IT industry in Bangalore, the population exploded from 24,76,355 in 1980 to 42,92,223 in 2001 with influx of 18 lakh immigrants within two decades. The growing population has increased pressure on several resources including civic amenities, residential availability, cost of living, local infrastructure, transport, traffic and
administration. Bangalore has lost many if its water bodies (lakes) and consequently the fragile ecosystem has been disturbed due to the everincreasing need for space, to cater to residences and business establishments.

The beginning of urbanization can be traced back to Renaissance times in 16th century. Turkish assaults resulted in movement of Christians from the east to western European countries. As a result, trade grew and European cities along the coasts developed greatly. A further boost for urbanization was created with the arrival of the “Industrial Revolution”. Populations of cities in Europe and USA started to increase significantly in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, urbanization started in Asia only in the first half of the 20th century and in the second half of the 20th century in Africa, when the countries obtained independence from colonial rule. An example for a dramatic increase in extent and population of cities is Chicago in USA. The population increased from 15 people to about 20 million, within a span of 78 years.

Urbanization in the World Today

This table presents the increase in urbanization in the World. MEDC refers to Most Economically Developed Countries and LEDC to Least Economically Developed Countries. Today as compared to Asian and African
countries, countries such as USA and UK have a higher urbanization level. Economic forces helped to locate factories and workers in cities. In USA 5% of the population lived in cities in 1800. By 1920 50% of the population lived in cities. In comparison only 17.8% of population of Third world societies lived in cities in 1950. But by 2000, the percentage had increased to 40%. By 2030, the percentage is predicted to increase to 60%. Australia is the most urbanized country in the world. Both the rate and level of urbanization in Australia are high.


Urbanization usually occurs when people move from villages to cities to settle, in hope of a higher standard of living. This usually takes place in developing countries. In rural areas, people become victims of unpredictable weather conditions such as drought and floods, which can adversely affect their livelihood. Consequently many farmers move to cities in search of a better life. This can be seen in Karnataka as well where farmers from Raichur, Gulbarga districts which are drought-stricken areas, migrate to Bangalore to escape poverty. Cities in contrast, offer opportunities of high living and are known to be places where wealth and money are centralized. Most industries and educational institutions are located in cities whereas there are limited opportunities within rural areas. This further contributes to migration to cities.

Urbanization means the physical growth of urban areas by migration of people from rural areas to urban areas. A more technical definition is given by the United Nations as “Urbanization means movement of people from rural area to urban areas resulting population growth which is equal to urban migration.” In the above definition given by UN the key word is “movement”. Urbanization may occur for the following reasons. Economic reasons: - The urban areas offer better wage-labor opportunity than the rural areas due to the conglomeration of industrial and service sectors (primary and secondary economic activities). On the other hand the rural economic structure is waning because of a variety of reasons like: breakdown of jajmani system (in India), fragmentation of cultivation land, erratic monsoon and failure of crops etc. So the rural people head towards the urban areas to get employed as wage laborers in industries or construction sites or as maid servants (in case of females). Educational reasons: - The premium institutes of higher education’s are mainly located in the
urban areas. So education results in migration to urban areas. Though on the surface it seems to be a temporary one but after education people don’t want to go back to the villages again and they settle in the urban areas for the lucrative job offers they provide. So the temporary migration becomes a permanent one.

Spatial mobility: - When the head of the family is employed in any organization in the urban area, it is seen in many cases his family accompanies him there. So this results in movement to urban areas. Reverse urbanization: - When the cities grow the adjacent rural areas are gradually embedded in the urban area and form a urban agglomerate. In this way though there is no absolute migration from rural to urban areas still it is a case of urbanization. E.g. cities like Rio- De-Genera, Mexico City and Shanghai have spread in the above manner.


Urbanization is set to stay for a long time. It may slow but surely does not show any signs of stopping. In 1985, 45% of the world population stayed in cities. Scientists estimate that 60% of the world population will be citydwellers by 2025.

The main goal of urban planning is to make all amenities and comforts available to the public without imposing many negative effects on society and environment, aptly referred to as “Sustainable growth”. The cardinal rule is to plan cities beforehand, rather than let them grow spontaneously and haphazardly. During city planning it should be ensured that adequate infrastructure is available to support the population. Residences should be conveniently located near the civic bodies. This could improve effective provision of the necessary services. Opportunities can be created within rural areas to reduce stress on cities. This also results in a higher standard of living for the people of the country as a whole. Some of the villages in South Kanara district of Karnataka set a good example for this. They have efficient transport and communication system and electricity. Cooperatives have been set up to provide financial aid to peasants. The rural people have been encouraged to engage in cottage industries and commercial activities such as making pickles, handicrafts, sweets and savories. Through cooperative agencies, marketing of these goods also has become easy. This is an efficient method of curbing urbanization, by creating opportunities for people in villages. This reduces the rate of migration.

Currently, planning cities for sustainable growth, mainly in the third-world societies, is a major challenge for humanity. Restricting the population boom is another major issue of the third millennium. All these vital factors would decide what the future would look like for humankind and our planet. Although it is impossible to restrict urbanization it can be ensured that the path of the development can move in the right path.

The current scenario of urbanization:

The UN-Habitat report of 2008 says ten years down the line majority of the world population would be living in urban areas. The report for the first time used the term “Urban Millennium” to describe the phenomena of rapid urbanization. If one goes by the trends of urbanization it is seen that urbanization is highest in the developing countries because of the unstable socio-economic structure. If one goes by the continent wise urbanization is highest in Asia and Africa followed by Latin America. In regard to future trends, it is estimated 93% of urban growth will occur in Asia and Africa, and to a lesser extent in Latin America and the Caribbean. By 2050 over 6 billion people, two thirds of humanity, will be living in towns and cities. Is urbanization a recent phenomenon? The answer will be no. The first process of urbanization started with industrial revolution. But it has become too obvious in the recent times due to its sheer magnitude.

Hazards associated with urbanization:

Migration of population - Urbanization is now mainly a trend in Africa and Asia, where only about 40 percent of the population is urban today. Driven by continued high population growth and economic growth in parts of the regions, the urban population is expected to double between 2000 and 2030, reaching 54 and 55 percent respectively.

Pressure on infrastructure - There is an immense pressure on land, water and infrastructure like public transport, places, health care, law and order etc. The growth of infrastructure will be unable to cope with the rapid urbanization.

1. Housing Problems - Urbanization leads to an increased demand for land bank which pushes the property prices. It’s no wonder that a large percentage of city-dwellers are poor, with an estimated 1 billion living in slums. Unable to find affordable houses leads to encroachment of pavements and creation of slums.

2. Water - Increase in the urban population increases the demand and consumption of water. It becomes a challenge to supply drinking water for humans living especially in the slum areas. In 1985 there were 100 million more people without water service than in 1975. Limited access to drinking water poses serious health hazards and easy spread of water borne diseases across the masses.

3. Public Transport & Traffic - Cities and towns have depended heavily on ground transport for the movement of people and goods. Thus, the increase in urbanization throughout the world has been accompanied by a sharp growth in urban traffic and the public transport system of the urban cities is choked. However, such a situation has generated a large number of accidents. Some 500,000 people are killed in traffic accidents each year, twothirds of which occur in urban or peri-urban areas. In addition, according to many studies in different countries, for every death there are ten to twenty persons injured.

Urbanity and health - Though urbanization allows more accessibility to health services, it also creates health hazards. In such urban areas the air, land and water are often contaminated, spreading disease. Health hazards resulting from urbanization are mainly connected to air pollution, as well as crime, traffic and lifestyle. The burning of fossil fuels from transportation, industry and energy production is the main culprit regarding outdoor urban air pollution. Another health hazard common the cities is connected to lifestyle and consumption patterns, including dietary changes and obesity.

Sanitation and Drainage - Globally some 2.4 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation. Every day as many as 30,000 people die from preventable water- and hygiene-related diseases and the children are most prone to the water bourne disease. The recent floods and heavy torrential rain shows how inadequate is the present urban drainage. Wastewater collection, ventilated and improved human pit latrines, shallow piped sewerage systems, waste water treatment and re-use of waste water for agriculture and aquaculture are some of the steps towards good sanitation.

Increases in prices - Due to rising income levels, the disposable income also increases which drives the consumption and the consumption patterns. The increased consumption trend pushes the price of essential items
and services.

Pollution - The hazard generated by the expansion of urban traffic is air and noise pollution. Health problems include acute and chronic respiratory diseases, malignancies and hearing deficiencies.

Waste management - 30 to 50% of solid waste generated within urban centres are left uncollected. More than two billion people still have no sanitary means to dispose of human waste (Hardoy, Cairncross and Satterthwaite 1990; WHO Commission on Health and Environment 1992b). Due to environmental considerations recycling and reuse of wastes are of utmost importance in the urban area. Large amount of toxic waste are also produced in the urban areas. Spread of Disease - Urban areas have usually high density of population, a fact which facilitates the spread of communicable diseases like urban malaria, dengue and yellow fever.

Psychological - Urbanization has often had psychosocial consequences such as stress, alienation, instability and insecurity; which, in their turn, have led to problems such as depression and alcohol and drug abuse. Marital instability and thus high number of divorce cases in the urban areas are common symptoms of the psychological disturbance of the urban mass.

Urbanity and food - In most societies, agriculture is the backbone of the economic foundations for development, whereas urbanization lays the foundation for the next step in economic development, industrialization. Industrial activities are mostly located in urban areas, or the establishment of industrial enterprises spurs development of urban centers. Where land and water are scarce, urban areas compete with agriculture. Farmers can suddenly find themselves outbid for land by industrial firms, jeopardizing the production of food. Food security is a major challenge closely connected to urbanization. The impact of urbanization on agriculture is also connected to the consumption patterns of city populations. Rising incomes lead to higher consumption and increased pressure on natural resources, especially in developed countries. Urban consumption may be a more imminent problem than the actual urban concentrations, causing a substantial urban footprint.


Urbanization brings with it several consequences – both adverse and beneficial. They impact on social and environmental areas.

Adverse effects of Urbanization

There is increasing competition for facilities due to the high standard of living in urban areas, which has triggered several negative effects. Many people including farmers who move to cities in search of a better life end up as casual laborers as they lack adequate education. This leads to one of the worst problems of urbanization - the growth of slums.


They are urban areas that are heavily populated with substandard housing and very poor living conditions. As a result several problems arise.

  • Land insecurity - Slums are usually located on land, which are not owned by the slum dwellers. They can be evicted at any time by the landowners.
  • Poor living conditions - Crowding and lack of sanitation are main problems. This contributes to outbreak of diseases. Utilities such as water, electricity and sewage disposal are also scarce.
  • Unemployment - Since the number of people competing for jobs is more than jobs available, unemployment is an inevitable problem.
  • Crime - Slum conditions make maintenance of law and order difficult. Patrolling of slums is not a priority of law enforcing officers. Unemployment and poverty force people into antisocial activities. Slums become a breeding ground for criminal activities. Environmental impacts of urbanization
  • Temperature - Due to factors such as paving over formerly vegetated land, increasing number of residences and high-rise apartments and industries, temperature increases drastically.
  • Air pollution - Factories and automobiles are symbols of urbanization. Due to harmful emissions of gases and smoke from factories and vehicles, air pollution occurs. Current research shows high amount of suspended particulate matter in air, particularly in cities, which contributes to allergies and respiratory problems thereby becoming a huge health hazard.
  • Water issues - When urbanization takes place, water cycle changes as cities have more precipitation than surrounding areas. Due to dumping of sewage from factories in water bodies, water pollution occurs which can lead to outbreaks of epidemics.
  • Destruction of Habitats - To make an area urbanized, a lot of forested areas are destroyed. Usually these areas would have been habitats to many birds and animals.

Benefits of urbanization

Though urbanization has drawbacks, it has its benefits.

  • Efficiency - Cities are extremely efficient. Less effort is needed to supply basic amenities such as fresh water and electricity. Research and recycling programs are possible only in cities. In most cities flats are in vogue today. Many people can be accommodated within a small land area.
  • Convenience - Access to education, health, social services and cultural activities is readily available to people in cities than in villages. Life in cities is much more advanced, sophisticated and comfortable, compared to life in villages. Cities have advanced communication and transport networks.
  • Concentration of resources - Since major human settlements were established near natural resources from ancient times, a lot of resources are available in and around cities. A lot of facilities to exploit these resources also
    exist only in cities.
  • Educational facilities - Schools, colleges and universities are established in cities to develop human resources. A variety of educational courses and fields are available offering students a wide choice for their future careers.
  • Social integration - People of many castes and religions live and work together in cities, which creates better understanding and harmony and helps breakdown social and cultural barriers.
  • Improvements in economy - High-tech industries earn valuable foreign exchange and lot of money for a country in the stock markets.

New opportunities and challenges

1. Urbanization creates opportunities and challenges, not least regarding sustainability.

2. Concentrations of people make it easier to offer basic infrastructure and public services such as education and health services.

3. Urbanization and growth go together, and no country has ever reached middle-income status without a significant population shift from rural to urban areas.

4. Urban environments, with close human interaction, also tend to spur innovation and economic development.

5. Urbanization affects economic relations and social structure throughout the world. It contributes to the globalization trend, with increased cross-border trade and cross-cultural ties bringing the world closer together.

Increased urbanization will also drive the development of megacities with 10 million inhabitants or more. It is estimated that by 2025 there will be 27 mega-cities, 20 of these in the developing world.

H K Shah