For first time, exploding urban populations to exceed rural

Deena Douara
4 Min Read

CAIRO: Anyone living in Cairo for over five years would have no doubt that urban migration is becoming a burden, clogging traffic routes, straining resources, and forcing many Cairenes to move to new suburban spaces to circumvent the city.

A new UN report issued by the population agency reveals that urban sprawl is a global phenomenon and 2008 will mark the first time urban residents outnumber their rural counterparts with 3.3 billion urban dwellers.

The report sites some staggering statistics, saying the next few decades will see “an unprecedented scale of urban growth in the developing world, particularly in Africa and Asia, where the urban population will double between 2000 and 2030.

“The accumulated urban growth of these two regions during the whole span of history will be duplicated in a single generation.

While the urban residents are expected to reach 5 billion by 2030, the developing world will bear the brunt of the growth, accounting for 81 percent of urban humanity.

The world’s urban population grew very rapidly (from 220 million to 2.8 billion) over the 20th century, but the next few decades will see an unprecedented scale of urban growth in the developing world.

The report raises concerns regarding the increased threat of poverty and religious extremism if the needs of the growing populations are not met.

The problems of urban migration are “very much a concern in the Middle East, American University in Cairo Sociology Professor Madiha El-Safty told The Daily Star Egypt.

“Rural-urban migration creates problems because they are not all qualified to be absorbed economically, says El-Safty.

Regarding the threat of increased “terrorism or “extremism, El-Safty says increased poverty, unemployment, frustration, and disillusionment are all factors which feed such a threat. She says exposure to the gap between the rich and the poor is only an additional provocation, the main factor being the living conditions of the unemployed poor.

Increased urban populations also have detrimental affects on agriculture because fewer people will be left to till the land, says El-Safty, a strain which may take time to become an urgent matter but which “is already a serious concern. “If we channeled efforts to the countryside, people won’t leave . especially in the Middle East, people don’t move out easily.

The report suggests, though, that increasing birth rates are driving urban population growth, rather than migration from rural areas, and recommends family planning policies to slow the expansion.

It also attempts to highlight the positive potential of urban growth. “No country in the industrial age has ever achieved significant economic growth without urbanization. Cities concentrate poverty, but they also represent the best hope of escaping it, it says.

While recognizing the damaging environmental affects of cities, the report adds that “experts and policymakers increasingly recognize the potential value of cities to long-term sustainability. If cities create environmental problems, they also contain the solutions.

“The potential benefits of urbanization far outweigh the disadvantages: The challenge is in learning how to exploit its possibilities.

Does Professor El-Safty agree that there are positive aspects to urban growth?

“I don’t think so, she says. “It’s not greater access, it’s mounting pressure on services.

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