THE WORLD urban population is projected to increase from the current 3.5 billion people to a staggering 6.2 billion in 2050.
That estimation was highlighted during a three-day first-ever United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) integration segment in New York, which attracted several dignitaries from around the world including President Paul Kagame, and Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon.
The integration segment focused on sustainable urbanisation to demonstrate how urbanisation can be an effective tool for the integration of economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
Urbanisation - the process of urban growth leading to increasing numbers of people living in cities began many years ago. In least developed countries, urbanisation continues to be driven by rural-urban migration which is mostly as a result of; challenging living conditions in rural areas; the concentration of jobs and modern services such as ICT in cities and towns; high population increase amongst young people and so on.
In developed countries, urbanisation grew as a result of new job opportunities especially factory jobs, but also, equally a factor was the mechanisation of agriculture that led to job losses in rural areas.
To date, the human race has seen an explosion in urban living.
In Rwanda, the Fourth Rwanda Population and Housing Census (RPHC4) carried out in 2012 established that the country has a population of 10.5 million which represents an average annual growth rate of 2.6 percent when compared to the 2002 census.
Also, despite the fact that the population of Rwanda is still largely rural- 83 percent living in rural areas, Rwanda’s young population (one in two persons is under 19 years of age) is set to change this trajectory.
More young people are moving to urban areas in search of better services including career opportunities, and improved standards of living.
No cause for alarm
The major increase in urban population has divided opinion among many development and environmental commentators. Some have rightly argued that this unprecedented increase in urban population will put pressure on the limited resources that our cities already have and that this act as a poverty trap for millions moving to urban areas.
Indeed, urbanisation sceptics argue that urban populations use far more energy compared to rural populations, motorization in urban areas outstrips that of rural areas, as more urban cities grow more land is taken away from being used for agriculture purposes, which may lead to lack of agricultural products, and above all, climate change will affect heavily populated low-lying areas as sea-levels rise and floods become an everyday occurrence.
However, all factors considered, this should not be cause for alarm. Instead, we should understand fully that urbanisation is an inevitable phenomenon where millions of people will move from rural to urban centres in search of higher wages and better standards of living.
In fact, during the integration segment in New York, President Kagame put it quite simply when he said that “people will continue to move to cities by the millions every year, whether we want them to or not”.
What we should be doing is to make sure that we use urbanisation as a tool to improve economic productivity. We should not ignore the fact that many solutions to societal problems are brought about as a result of challenges paused.
Urbanisation is likely to expose those rural-urban migrants to new ideas including information communication technology, something increasingly seen as a pre-requisite for modern-day solutions.
Also, rural-urban migration can help power people out of extreme poverty. People in urban cities tend to learn new skills and they learn to work in a new and often fast environment.
The improvement in skills, opportunities and subsequent standards of living has for many decades acted as the sole attraction to urban areas. in fact, a report published jointly by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicates that absolute poverty rates are lower in urban centres i.e. 11.6 percent versus 29.4 percent in rural areas, where nearly 76 percent of the developing world’s poor lived in 2010.
Ultimately, the decision is not whether we should embrace urbanisation or not.
Urbanisation is inevitable. What policymakers should concentrate on is to create a set of policies to ensure that basic infrastructure and services are in place to deal with the surge in urban population.
More importantly, however, decision makers must plan for this increase and plan well. Rwanda is setting standards with national development agenda, which gives high priority to organised settlement.
It is therefore important to keep in mind that organised settlement must go hand in hand with affordability, better services, employment opportunities, and development in general.
Urbanisation should not only represent the dreams of the rich but also the dreams of those looking to making something out of little.
The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Service Policy.
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