Urbanization in the Developing World

The trend of rural populations moving toward cities has created huge problems in the urban societies of the developing countries. Though economics has played some role in creating these problems, it has primarily been created by the migration of rural populations to the cities, over the years.  In the year 2005, half of the world’s population  was living in urban areas. In 1994, there were 14 so-called “mega-cities,” - the cities that had at least 10 million inhabitants. Their number is expected to double by 2015. Following are some of the problems that are the result of this migration.


Due to this influx of population, cities are unable to provide amenities to all their residents and the increasing slums have become centers of great crime in the city.  A report by the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) says that some 96,150 housings units per day are required to avoid the urban crisis in the near future. Under the title “Financing Urban Shelter,” the same report under the context Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) mentions that the goal to improve the lives of slum dwellers by 2020 would be a challenge that needs prompt attention and vast resources.  According to the executive director of UN-HABITAT, Anna Tibaijuka, more than two billion people would be added as city dwellers by 2030. To provide housing to these additional people, some 35 million units would have to be built every year for the next 25 years. If adequate financial resources are not provided, billions of people will be trapped in poverty, slums, poor health and low productivity.


The population increase has multiplied the problem. There are many more births in the poor strata of population than in the middle and higher income groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The world population increased from 3 billion in 1959 to 6 billion by 1999, doubling that occurred over 40 years.” The Census Bureau’s latest projections imply that population growth will continue into the 21st century, although more slowly. The world population is projected to grow from “6 billion in 1999 to 9 billion by 2042, an increase of 50 percent that will require 43 years.”

The Population growth rate was 1.5 percent in 1950-51 which accelerated to 2 percent in the 1960’s due to reductions in mortality. Growth after the 1960’s started to decline due to the decline of the tradition of early marriages and availability of effective contraceptives. But the declining growth rate did not affect the population growth in any considerable manner, since the total number of reproducing couples was much more than before. Though there was a decline in the rate, but the rate itself was based on the population pool that was much larger than before.


There is a considerable increase in the poverty-stricken population due to an increase in overall population of the world. This increase in the population has considerably increased the rift between rich and poor as the number of people living below and just above the poverty line has increased considerably.  Ignacio Ramonet writes in The Politics ofHunger. “The total wealth of the world’s three richest individuals is greater than the combined gross domestic product of the 48 poorest countries - a quarter of all the world’s states… In 1960 the income of the 20 % of the world’s population living in the richest countries was 30 times greater than that of the 20 % in the poorest countries… in 1995 it was 82 times greater … In over 70 countries, per capita income is lower today than it was 20 years ago. Almost three billion people - half the world’s population - live on less than two dollars a day.”

Though the food resources of the world have increased considerably and the number of goods for daily use has also increased, there is also a considerable increase in number of those people who are starving and have no shelter.  But is it possible to salvage this situation and help the exhausted humanity? According to United Nations, it requires only 13 billion dollars. This is less than the cost of cosmetics used by the people of the developed world in one year. It is also much less than the aimless wars that humanity has engaged in over the last 50 years.

In mega –cities like Bombay, Karachi and Mexico City, the decreasing middle class has created a stark contrast between the poor and the rich. In these cities a portion of the population has all the facilities that elites of the developed world have. In fact they have much more than that as they can afford to have an army of domestic workers due to cheap labor but on the other hand a large population is starving and has no shelter. A large percentage of these people live on the streets and under bridges. This has created a tension between the rich and the poor that is sometimes subtle and at other times very obvious.  The middle class is slowly losing its effect on the overall society as more and more families are pushed down the ladder into poverty. Its role as a group that serves as an ethical gauge and innovative factor for the traditions and values of a society is almost lost.

The countries that have large populations that live in poverty feel that they have been robbed of the world wealth and have become hostile to the notions of ‘free world’ and ‘open markets.’  They feel that the rich nations are only interested in exploiting their resources and the notions of ‘free market’ and ‘open market,’ of the developed world are only to get raw materials from the third world countries and impose the finished goods back to these countries. This creates a lot of uncertainty and mistrust in their  governments. This is either because the people feel that their governments have no control over the economic issues of their countries or they are powerless in the face of the strong market forces created by the rich countries. In 2002, when President Eduardo Duhalde of Argentina blamed the free market policies and devalued the currency, Argentines gathered in pouring rain outside banks trying to find if they would ever recover their deposits. This is just one strain of such events that often occur in third world countries. Due to this uncertainty the stock markets of these countries are also very fragile and we see a lot of fluctuation over the short term. This tendency keeps foreign and domestic investors away.


            It’s easy to figure out what happens to the youngsters who are uneducated and live on streets: all too often they become criminals and are recruited into gangs. A society where a youngster sees an elite class that owns a lot of glittering gadgets, cars and houses, a vast number of people that live on the streets and a third group, which live quite like rich of the country on the basis of their criminal activity, he is more likely to join the last group as he knows he can never move up to the elite. To be in the gang is better than living on the streets.  These gangs are getting more and more powerful as the third world governments are becoming more and more vulnerable due to weak economies and a decline in resources. In some countries these gangs actively participate in the politics of that country and favor candidates that can broaden their control. They finance these candidates and use their terror on the population that is in their control to vote for these candidates. Their control of a part of the government of a nation gives them the opportunity to expand their activities globally. According to the summary created in the seminar Gangs in the Global City, held by The University of Illinois in 2002, “In the Third World, gangs changed in two directions. Some, like in Jamaica (Gunst 1995), moved from politics to the world of international drug sales….At the same time, other gangs became politicized, like those in New Guinea (Dinnen 1998) and emphasized ethnic and national traditions as a way to resist globalization.” The Financial Press, New Delhi reports on November 30, 2005,“Underworld don Dawood Ibrahim is not just facing the heat from Indian intelligence services but also the United States. Assuring all help to catch the ‘global terrorist,’ the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] on Tuesday termed the US move to probe his links with the drug mafia as a follow-up of Interpol and UN resolve to fight international gangs.”


            The irresponsible attitude of the human race has created immense problems for the environment. It’s not only green house gas emission but it’s also the increasing population that is participating in ruining the environment for future generations. The United Nation maintains that the world population for the year 2050 could range from 7.9 billion to 10.9 billion, depending on the actions we take today. According to the surveys done by different bodies of United Nations, there may be 2.6 billion to 3.1 billion people living in either water-scarce or water-stressed conditions, 600 million to 986 million will have scarce land to cultivate and the number of people living in forest-scarce countries could be 3 billion by 2025. This means, in just twenty years, the population growth will create enormous problems. At this juncture, we should keep in mind that the word population doubles itself in 40 to 45 years according to U.S census. One can imagine what sort of environment the future generations will have after 45 years from now when we can clearly see that we will be at a deadlock just after 20 years in 2025.

All these problems are interconnected. Economics makes people migrate to cities, migration results in slums, the bad living conditions in slums and lack of opportunities give birth to crime and gangs, and crime highlights the class differences, class differences in turn increase social strife and unrest and so on. In the 21st century, when we are trying to make a contact with intelligent beings in space, when we are trying to discover new galaxies and debate whether Pluto is a planet or not, the conditions of our own planet are deteriorating and a large number of humans are trapped in deprived conditions.  If we look at our planet from space we may find that there is a part of the world we call Europe, where the number of young people is decreasing and there are more people who are above the age of 60. There is also a part that has more young people that are starved, uneducated and involved in criminal activities. If an intelligent being were to observe us from space, he may take Homo sapiens as a very primitive race.

The world has contracted due to the technological advances and now we often call it a global village. Something that happens in one part of the world affects the other part sooner or later. Bird flu occurs in Far East but we are afraid of its effect here because we know that it may reach here faster than the migrating birds. It may reach here through an airplane within a few hours. Narcotics made in Afghanistan and Columbia end up in America. American elections affect its enemies and allies and its wars. The world is becoming more and more complex and in this complex world who should take the responsibility of saving it? If the developed nations continue to hesitate to save the rest of the drowning humanity in the third world then this human dilemma may extend to their borders. It is high time that we take heed and take practical measures to tackle the problems humanity is facing. Some of my suggestions are

  1. We should politically take measures to create an environment in which we support and provide aid only to those countries that reduce their population growth, educate their masses and take strict measures to protect the environment.
  2. The United Nations should be used as a vehicle to save the environment and the nations that violate environmental regulations should be isolated by embargoes and sanctions.
  3. Intensive aid in the form of contraceptives and technical support should be given to countries that work efficiently for family planning.
  4. Within the country, incentives should be given to couples that plan only two children. For example, free health care for two children until they are 18 but on the birth of the third child all the health care support may be taken away. In case of more than three children, no health care facility is provided.
  5. Clean fuels should be developed fast. Fuels that emit harmful gases should be replaced. Brazil has made ethanol from its major crop, sugarcane. It’s a clean fuel and produces no harmful gases. CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) is used in some developing countries. CNG is a natural gas. It consists of 95 percent of methane and 5 percent of other gases including vapors. Methane is a hydrocarbon, which means its molecules are made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms (CH4). It has been found to be one of the most environmentally friendly fuels.
  6. Third world countries should be encouraged to provide infrastructure to their rural areas so that there are educational and employment opportunities in these areas. This will reduce the number of migrating people to urban areas and the pressure of population on the cities will be less than what it is now.

The time of wait and see is past. Human race may become a race of dinosaurs.They ate all their resources and died; we are eating all of the planet and may die with it. We are so proud of our evolution, our religions and our history that we are ready to kill each other but when the same evolution, religions and history demand us to stop violating the sanctity of this earth we contract in our shells and refuse to do any thing concrete. The evolution of our brains left our spiritual evolution somewhere behind and we are unable to take responsibility for what we have created. We are like children who love their toys and are greedy to have new ones but who are unable to realize that these toys won’t last long and disappointment would soon overwhelm them. The world that has created these toys is drowning into the abyss from where it would never resurface again.

Imran Omer



Schuijt, M.  (2005). World faces prospect of teeming mega-slums. Common Dreams

            News Center. NY: Inter Press Service

University of Illinois. Gangs in the global city. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from


Ramesh, S.  (2005, November 30).  US has special tag for Dawood: global terrorist.  The

Financial Express. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=110072

Ramonet, I.  (1998).   The politics of hunger.  Le monde diplomatique.  Paris

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