What problems does urbanization cause

Every week three million rural dwellers around the world migrate to urban centers. In Asia, in particular, rural exodus poses enormous challenges for large cities. KfW expert Christine Heimburger explains why there is no alternative to sustainable urban development.

The author

Christine Heimburger heads the East Asia and Pacific department of the KfW Development Bank division. She has been with KfW since 1989 and also headed the KfW office in Jakarta for a number of years.

Urbanization is irreversible. By 2030 there will be more than 500 cities with more than a million inhabitants, most of them in Asia. While in Europe it took around 150 years for 50 percent of the population to migrate to urban centers, change in Asia will take place in just 60 to 70 years. This process has a direct impact on economic and social development. The consumption of resources is also increasing.

An important reason for people to seek their fortune in the city is the lack of prospects in the country. Asian farmers often only have five to ten hectares of land to feed their families of five to seven people. When harvesting, there is hardly any surplus that can be used to purchase machines or fertilizer and achieve higher yields. In countries like Cambodia, considerable successes have been achieved in reducing poverty - but a bad harvest would be enough to bring many smaller farms below the poverty line.

In many countries, large parts of the arable land are given to international concessionaires, for example for the cultivation of oil palms. Often this is also associated with expropriation and displacement. The younger generation in particular has no choice but to seek refuge in the cities. Added to this is their desire to escape the constraints of traditional village structures.

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Internal migration should not be viewed negatively per se: Cities are economic growth engines. Around 80 percent of the gross domestic product is generated in them worldwide. The high population density in cities enables more efficient access to work, mobility, education, health and social and political participation. Road networks, electricity and water supplies can be developed and operated 15 to 35 percent more cost-effectively in cities than in rural areas.

In most developing and emerging countries, however, urban growth is uncontrolled. Not only the population of the cities, but also the number of slum dwellers will triple to three billion by 2050. The poor in particular are often victims of illness, traffic accidents and crime in urban areas. They are also more often affected by natural disasters. Cities cause more than 70 percent of all climate-damaging greenhouse gases and consume around 70 percent of global resources.

These negative effects are often a direct result of uncontrolled urban growth. Overburdened administrations, a low level of prosperity and a lack of support from the central government reduce the financial possibilities for building infrastructure. But this is exactly what is needed in order for the potential of a city to develop: efficiency advantages can only have an effect in densely populated settlement structures, for example along traffic corridors or in centers. If possible, these structures should be shaped at an early stage of urban development. Later changes can only be implemented with great effort and at high costs due to the roads and settlements that have already been built, high land prices and property rights. Since cities often do not have sufficient financial strength in the early stages of their development, international donors and development banks are in demand. You can fill gaps with know-how and suitable financing.


This article was published in Chances Spring / Summer 2016 "Hikes".

To the issue

At the conference, a new urban agenda (New Urban Agenda - NUA) was developed and resolved, which postulates a right to the city. The approximately 200 participating governments have drawn up guidelines that are intended to significantly reduce energy consumption and environmental pollution in urban areas over the next two decades. Only in this way can cities become livable for their residents. The Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI) launched by the German federal government also received a lot of attention. As part of this initiative, urban mobility projects with a total volume of one billion euros per year are to be implemented. KfW will significantly promote this initiative.

Published on KfW Stories on: Thursday, May 4, 2017

The presented project makes a contribution to these sustainability goals of the United Nations

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and settlements

More than half of the world's population already lives in cities. But cities are fueling global warming. They are responsible for around 70 percent of energy consumption and energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Heavy traffic, intensive construction activity combined with strong urban sprawl, high energy requirements and enormous amounts of rubbish and sewage: everything comes together in cities. Their high density also makes cities an ideal starting point in the fight against climate change. Because they can conserve resources on a large scale and exemplify sustainability, for example thanks to space-saving and compact urban structures, low-emission transport systems, energy-efficient buildings and regulated waste disposal. Source: www.17ziel.de

All member states of the United Nations adopted the Agenda 2030 in 2015. Its core is a catalog with 17 goals for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our world should be transformed into a place where people can live in peace with one another in an ecologically compatible, socially just and economically efficient manner.