Rapid Urbanization in the Developing World Is Increasing


Urbanization refers to the physical growth of urban centers due to globalization and increased rural-urban migration. Rapid urbanization, therefore, causes remarkable population growth in urban areas. Some of the causes of urbanization include the individual need to find better employment opportunities and social amenities such as schools and housing in urban areas rather than rural regions. People are motivated to move to towns and cities in pursuit of economic opportunities which cannot be found in rural areas (Price, Lewis & Rowntree, 2003). It is apparent from global migration patterns related to urbanization that the movement of persons is inspired by the need to improve their living conditions above subsistence lifestyles.

The rural area is limited by agriculture as the main economic activity. Consequently, farming is the principal career in such rural settings. However, farming is quite unpredictable since it is dictated by environmental conditions such as the presence or absence of rainfall and diseases. On the other hand, the urban areas are littered with a variety of economic activities which can sustain a considerable number of people. Modernization, globalization, and industrialization are the main factors contributing to the rapid urbanization of towns and cities in developing countries (Pacione, 2001). Business and employment opportunities are rife in urban centers. The notion is that towns and cities are the right places for wealth creation and opportunities for career development available to everyone.

Urban areas are actually the places where commerce is extensively carried out and foreign exchange transacted. The rapid exchange of goods and services in urban areas provides opportunities to make money more easily than in the rural setting. Advanced medical facilities are also found in urban areas rather than remote rural settings. The variety of job opportunities in urban centers and institutions of higher learning encourages rural-urban migrations. There are also entertainment facilities and social amenities which ensure that the quality of life and standards of living are improved. The sustained migration of people from rural to urban areas increases social diversity and interaction of people from different communities (Zeigler, Hays-Mitchell & Brunn, 2008).

Rapid urbanization is influenced by globalization and industrialization. Industrialization actually results in automation and mechanization of agriculture forcing manual laborers to seek for alternative employment opportunities in factories most of which are located in urban areas. The corporate presence of companies in urban areas is due to comparable developed infrastructure for transportation and communication. Factories and industries are therefore strategically located in urban areas due to accessibility to markets and ports. Advertising and marketing initiatives are also facilitated by the established network of communication systems.

The centralization of social amenities, administrative offices, and transport and communication networks encourages establishment of industries in urban localities. Rapid urbanization accompanied with pronounced population increase results in dramatic changes in costs especially the pricing of consumer goods. Status differentials are thereby created due to social stratification and disparities (Hilhorst, Frerks & Bankoff, 2004). The poor and unskilled workers are condemned to live in informal settlements characterized by low quality shanties and dilapidated infrastructure. On the other hand, affluent persons live in posh estates where they are provided with water tight security, decent housing and other social amenities. Social disparities arise from these economic inequalities in different social settings in towns and cities

China case study

China is considered to be the fastest growing economy in the world more than a quarter century now. This unprecedented rapid economic growth has resulted in a significant increase in per capita income in addition to a remarkable decline in poverty levels. Social inequalities have equally increased characterized by huge gaps between incomes in rural and urban areas. Disparities are also big between highly educated workers and unskilled employees in urban areas. There have also been significant inequalities in health and education parameters. There are restrictions on rural-urban migration in China due to a decentralized fiscal system which provides funding to health and education sectors through the local government. The rural areas are therefore impoverished since trade and employment opportunities are equally limited.

Rapid urbanization and industrialization does not benefit the job market adequately since the population is huge and beyond the government’s capacity to support (Hazary & Mohanty, 2007). The urban industries benefited a small number of educated professionals apart from condemning the poor in rural areas where poverty prevailed. Farmers in rural areas are merely peasants because of a weak land tenure system. The Poor rural families are therefore economically deprived from affording basic needs such as education and healthcare. Government restriction of people’s mobility from rural areas to urban centers has widened the gap between the incomes of the two restricted areas. Rapid economic growth and urbanization is therefore benefiting a limited number of people in China as a result of policy impediments and uncontrolled population increase. In essence, the cities only register skilled people who can work in the industries and other professional organizations.

The government is reluctant to register unskilled people from rural areas into urban localities. Economic disparities therefore continue to increase causing further social inequalities in China. The poverty that is evident in rural settings has forced people to use unlawful means in order to gain access into urban regions in pursuit of employment and business opportunities. Rapid economic growth is therefore not equally distributed in the country (Smith, 2006). The privileged few who secure jobs in cities and towns receive good salaries and allowances. Income distribution is curtailed by migration restrictions while unregulated labor migration continues to persist. Workers in cities and towns find it difficult to support their families because they cannot afford the cost of education, housing and accommodation. The composition of urbanized regions is therefore distorted causing serious inequalities in the society and the entire nation.

Opportunities for growth and development are hidden from the rural citizens who are legally restricted from seeking alternative economic activities and better living standards. It is legal for people who own land in urban areas to sell it or mortgage it while rural owners are prevented from doing so. It is also difficult to convert land from rural to urban use since Chinese economy is dependent on the manufacturing sector rather than agriculture. China is also densely populated and suffers from scarcity of water. Agriculture is therefore not a lucrative economic activity in China forcing huge migrations from rural to urban areas whether restrictions exist or not. This is because famers cannot convert their agricultural land for industrial use in remote villages. The restrictions have managed rural-urban migrations to an extent that urban population is ordered (Obudho & El-Shakhs, 2008). To this end, problems associated with the migration pressures on the urban centers are minimized. Such problems include slums arising from development of informal settlements by the cities’ poor.

The task of converting agricultural land into urban use is the responsibility of the state. Consequently, corrupt land officials take advantage of the peasant farmers during such land conversion transactions. Such oppression upon the poor has been resisted through violent protests against biased government policies. Another aspect of China’s big social disparities lies in its decentralized fiscal system which permits local governments to collect revenue within their area of jurisdiction in order to finance their budgets. The rich form the elite class of the society since resources are available at their disposal at the expense of the marginalized poor (Masson, 2008). Rich families consolidate wealth within their reach away from the poor. Income gaps between the affluent urban populations and the marginalized rural peasants continue to increase as globalization, industrialization and urbanization increase.

Decentralization in China has led to devolution of typically all government services to the local councils which carry out important functions such as provision of social security and financing education from local tax collection. Since there are disparities in economic levels between the rural and urban areas, revenue obtained from both extremes is world apart. The gap between the richest and the poorest region is enormous. People restricted to live in either region are equally apart in their spending patterns. The purchasing power of the affluent urban populations is way above the peasant farmers in rural areas (Rogerson & Nel, 2008). In essence, the poor lack enough disposable incomes to lead a fancy lifestyle. The local governments of the remote rural provinces do not have enough resources to finance basic social services such as education and healthcare like the richer urban provinces could. Poor households are therefore incapacitated from obtaining quality healthcare and a descent education altogether.

Zimbabwe Scenario

Rapid urbanization in Zimbabwe that followed its independence and subsequent economic growth led to significant rural-urban migrations. At the time nation was born, there were a variety of jobs for both skilled and unskilled migrants. The population was also manageable and access to social services possible. However, the population growth increased faster than the pace at which the economy developed, jobs became scarce and the prices of commodities increased. The main catalyst of the economic decline was the misrule that accompanied an authoritarian system of governance (Coleman, 2008). These factors combined to condemn Zimbabwe’s economy into a runaway inflation and social inequalities. As previously noted, rapid urbanization was necessitated by people’s hopes of obtaining better jobs in urban areas in order to improve their standards of living. The urban centers soon became congested with rural migrants some lucky to get jobs while the majority survived on casual employment.

The government’s inability to ensure equal distribution of resources in the country further impaired its credibility locally and internationally. Political unrests and violent confrontations between the state and desperate citizens became the order of the day. Reduced international investment and foreign aid hurt the economy further while causing untold suffering on the poor. Economic inflation continued to increase unabated since trade had been curtailed by sanctions (Price, Lewis & Rowntree, 2003). Industries already established in predominantly urban areas were unable to not only employ more workers but also maintain their current employees. Cities and urban areas are left unattended by the local government.

Consequently, refuse and sewage litters the streets of the urban centers. Worn out sewerage facilities flush out the effluents into the surrounding environment accumulating into heaps that are a major health hazard in the townships. City residents walk through this refuse in the neighboring congested slum dwellings. The outbreak of waterborne diseases is a common phenomenon in a country where poverty is at its worst in the entire continent. Provision of healthcare is therefore hindered by scarcity of resources and health professionals. Poor sanitation is therefore the main cause of diseases in urban areas where huge populations are congested in remote locations within cities without proper livelihoods (Pacione, 2001). Idle youths roam the suburbs of the cities with no hope of a better future. They are therefore susceptible to deviant practices and all manner of crimes to make ends meet. The affluent members of this corrupt society consist of the ruling political elite and their sympathizers who are privileged to access the nation’s wealth and resources for their selfish interests.

The rapid and unplanned urbanization in Zimbabwe is the cause of poverty, ecological degradation and social disparities. The government cannot support the population density of these urban areas. As a consequence, substandard housing and environmental pollution are associated with urban areas. Smoke emitted from factories and car exhausts causes air pollution. Chemicals disposed as industrial effluents into rivers pollute water that most urban residents drink and cook with. Respiratory and water-borne diseases are therefore prevalent in most urban areas in Zimbabwe. Lack of commitment by the government provide basic services to the city residents causes confusion and despair which is manifested through violent confrontations with law enforcement agencies. The combination of rapid urbanization and increased population growth results into a social problem which cannot be solved even by the government (Zeigler, Hays-Mitchell & Brunn, 2008). Social disparities continue to emerge in line with persistent corruption in the central and local governments.

Social disparities in India

India is one of the earliest civilizations in the world. There is an intact caste system in addition to economic inequalities associated with rapid urbanization and industrialization (Hilhorst, Frerks & Bankoff, 2004). According to Hindu traditions, the culture of the caste system is maintained in both rural and urban areas. Majority of the Indians depend on agriculture as the mainstay of the economy. The Indian subcontinent is therefore rich in food supply which is also sold to potential buyers. However, social interaction between Indians from different caste systems is restricted by the Hindu culture which empowers members of the upper caste over those in the lower caste. Majority of the citizens are famers who grow and sell rice in exchange for other goods.

Rapid urbanization is a product of a well-developed infrastructure particularly the road network which facilitated the exchange of goods and services. Markets are therefore accessible to farmers and businessmen. The caste system acts as a social impediment to relevant competition among citizens from different socio-economic backgrounds. The upper classes lead a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of the impoverished lower class (Hazary & Mohanty, 2007). There are sharp social disparities in the living conditions of the different classes in the caste system. The purchasing power parity between the rich and the poor is so wide that one quickly appreciates the social disparities brought forward by the primitive traditions.

Rapid urbanization and industrialization has increased the variety of employment opportunities to all Indians. Industrialization in India is a subject of further inequalities as foreigners invested much in industries that directly benefitted them while the traditional industries focused on the local content. Textile and rice are the main local products being processed for export and the internal Indian markets. The presence of road and rail infrastructure increases the speed at which exchange of goods and services takes place. Economic growth has been sustainable over despite of the financial crisis in the world. This unparalleled economic and industrial development has equally aggravated social disparities in India. The pronounced income gaps between the rich and the poor have been sustained by the rapid economic growth due to India’s population density and the caste system (Smith, 2006).

The culture of dividing the society through social classes persists in view of economic inequalities. Farmers work hard to produce surplus agricultural commodities which only benefit the industries and businessmen. Farmers continue to languish in poverty as returns on their investment is distorted by crafty businessmen and government officials. Different states have different economic levels but which are not synchronized. Wealth remains in the domain of the rich and the political aligned individuals. Economic growth and rapid urbanization simply expose the difficulties in this society to distribute resources equally. Migration from rural to urban areas by peasant famers seeking alternative employment and better living standards in urban areas is a common phenomenon (Obudho & El-Shakhs, 2008 ). The population is equally increasing at a faster rate than the economy.

It is therefore obvious to associate rapid urbanization with economic development without the inclusion of social disparities in the mix. Inability of poor children to afford education and basic health services renders them as slaves to child labor and human trafficking syndicates. Poor parents without the hope of improving their living conditions commit suicide in order to avoid the pain of seeing their children die out of hunger. It is also common to find poor people in India selling the organs such as the kidneys in order to get money for food. This alarming poverty is evident in a society where the benefits of economic growth are not equally distributed across the population.

The rapid increase in the population is another burden the government needs to shoulder in its budget and policy framework. Incentives and subsidies are not enough to support farmers to lead a descent lifestyle similar to the affluent class living in cities (Masson, 2008). The rich actually benefit more from the sweat of these famers since they purchase the bulk of the produce at a throw away price in India’s liberalized market. Poverty therefore drives the peasant farmers into urban areas with the hope that better jobs and living conditions are available there. The paradox is that the city is controlled by the affluent that prefer to employ skilled people to the casual workers. The struggle of living in urban areas without a proper job is equally frustrating since one is unable to find affordable shelter and other basic services with meager earnings.


Social disparities are part and parcel of urbanization. This is because economic inequalities in different societies cannot be bridged properly by the prospects of urbanization. Rural-urban migration is a consequence of economic imbalance and pressures which force people to seek for alternatives some of which are worse. Globalization and industrialization have mutually created job and business opportunities in urban areas making cities and towns the ultimate destination (Rogerson & Nel, 2005). Provision of basic services to the ever increasing urban populations is a challenge to authorities. Managing the social inequalities that follow rapid urbanization requires wisdom and expertise in order to avert a crisis which could arise from unchecked urban populations and overstretched social facilities. China has restricted rural-urban migration for this purpose while Zimbabwe whose governance systems are a subject of controversy has left its urban regions in ruins due to negligence. Rapid urbanization has therefore resulted in various social inequalities in the developing world instead of the perceived prospects of improving the general wellbeing of society.

Reference list

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