Urbanization is the movement of people from the countryside or rural areas to more developed urban areas like towns and cities, causing rapid growth in these areas.
The movements are usually motivated by the belief that urban areas have more to offer in terms of growth, job opportunities, and development than rural areas.
Urbanization primarily stems from the industrial revolution as it played a big part in bringing people from rural areas to the developing industrial urban areas, which had factory jobs that rendered agricultural jobs less popular.
In modern times, urbanization is taking place on a large global scale as most development projects focus more on towns and cities.
This is also evident in both developing and developed countries, as governments and municipalities allocate urban areas more resources than rural areas, which encourages urbanization.
Currently, 56% of the world’s total population lives in urban areas, and it’s expected that this percentage will rise to about 70% by 2050.
But then, despite urbanization creating opportunities for people who take the leap to look for greener pastures in urban areas, it is often faced with many challenges, which this article looks at in-depth.
15+ Major Global Urbanization Problems and Issues
Some of the major problems associated with global urbanization include:
1. Overcrowding or Overpopulation
Overcrowding is a situation where a lot of people accumulate in a rather limited space that is unable to accommodate them without succumbing to the pressures around it properly.
As a result of urbanization, overcrowding is a persistent problem as a large number of people are consistently moving to urban areas on a daily basis.
This leads to cities growing in population and getting crammed when it gets beyond their capacity. When a city is at maximum or excess capacity, people compete over limited and scarce resources such as electricity, water, transport, and employment.
Unemployment is another urbanization problem. What is surprising is that a large percentage of unemployed young people belong to well-raised and educated families.
The job opportunities might be greater in urban areas, and the pay may also be better than in rural areas, but as the number of people continues to grow, the jobs become even harder to find and retain.
Companies find themselves retrenching employees, putting even more people out of a job. All these factors combine to create an alarmingly high urban unemployment rate.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, the unemployment rate increased manifolds. A good percentage of people had to be laid off during this time, and some companies are still yet to recover fully.
3. Housing Problems
Housing problems tend to develop when people move to cities, and they become overcrowded in them. Most of these cities don’t have enough housing to accommodate the overwhelming numbers of incoming persons.
When the demand exceeds supply, finding a house becomes more scarce. Even worse, the rent is forced to go up, making life even more difficult, especially for the unemployed population.
4. Development of Slums
Urbanization and industrialization make many people move to urban areas, but they do not prepare them for the conditions they will likely face when they arrive there.
Urban areas tend to have a high cost of living. The housing problems fuel this even more, as all the people who move to urban areas cannot be adequately accommodated.
This leads to the advent and growth of slums as safe havens for those who cannot afford the high rent costs or lack substantial money to purchase apartments or build homes in urban areas.
The slums arise from the construction of houses on under-developed or undervalued land due to how scarce and expensive apartments or land is in urban areas.
The houses in slums are often poorly constructed and, most of the time, lack basic amenities like clean water and proper sanitation. Plus, they are built to cater to low-income urban earners.
Some of these settlements are even illegal and may be set up next to dumpsites, heavily polluted areas, or natural disaster risk areas such as swampy or mudflow areas.
5. Sanitation Problems
Sanitation problems are rampant in urban areas due to overpopulation. The local governments find it hard to properly set up and manage a proper sewerage system due to the rampant bulge of the human population.
The fast increase in the population sometimes overwhelms the local government’s resource capacity to construct the required sanitation and sewage systems.
Sometimes, the existing sewerage systems may not have adequate human and infrastructural capacity to treat and manage the waste. So instead, it is drained into the water sources, polluting them and endangering the health of urban dwellers who may not only contract harmful water-borne diseases but also consume water contaminated with industrial waste and heavy metals.
6. Water Shortage Problems
Water is essential for sustaining life. The rampant population growth in urban areas makes it very scarce as the regular supply becomes strained and inadequate to adequately meet the demands of the large population.
7. Health hazards
People living in congested urban areas are exposed to a lot of risks. Poor sanitation, water problems, and living in high-risk areas like next to dumpsites lead to diseases of all kinds.
To make matters worse, people in these areas often do not have proper access to quality healthcare services, which makes the disease much harder to cure, and at times, it can even lead to death.
In the slums, people are often diagnosed with diseases like infertility, food poisoning, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular complications, respiratory failure, cancer, and death. This can all be accredited to the overall pollution experienced in these urban areas.
8. Degraded Environmental Quality
This is one of the most common effects of urbanization. The congestion of people in limited spaces and areas reduces air quality, contaminates water, and pollutes the noise and land. This leads to very poor environmental conditions for people to live in and is often detrimental to the health of these people.
Plus, urbanization means there is also a need to improve the infrastructure to accommodate the rise in population by erecting new buildings and amenities. This leads to the destruction of forests and natural habitats to acquire the materials required.
In addition, the industrial waste poured into the river and lakes contaminate the water, and the noise brought about by the numerous human activities carried out sums up the many effects urbanization brings to slum areas.
Again, the greater the urban population, the more pollution is caused by automobiles, as more vehicles would be needed to haul people from one place to another.
Sure, carpooling and public transport are a relatively better practice. But then, not everyone has come to terms with the two. Instead, most people prefer to use their personal vehicles because they’re more convenient.
And actually, even if everyone would opt for carpooling or public transport, it still wouldn’t help much considering the millions of people moving from one place to another everyday.
Most of these vehicles run on fossil fuels and, as a result, cause an immense amount of air pollution and degrade the quality of the air considerably.
9. Disposal of Trash
Urbanization has led to many factors that have made trash disposal very difficult. Urban cities produce a lot of waste on a daily basis that they cannot properly dispose of, subjecting the people living in these areas to multiple health risks.
The areas that were initially set aside to accommodate trash disposal needs have become full, and some of them are inhabited by slum people who move close to such areas.
Diseases can be easily transmitted, often through insects and animals that frequent areas with dumping sites and subsequently come into contact with water consumed by people. Moreover, the presence of trash fills in residential areas exposes residents to various health risks.
10. Transportation Problems
As the urban population continues to grow, the need for daily commuting from home to work, school, and other destinations becomes increasingly prevalent. Unfortunately, this surge in commuting requirements often leads to frustrating traffic jams and congestion.
Compounding the issue, the number of car owners is steadily rising each year, especially in urban areas, while the public transport system struggles to provide reliable service.
Consequently, the growing number of vehicles on the roads further exacerbates the existing traffic problems. Not only does this result in frequent traffic blockages, but it also heightens the risk of accidents and contributes to urban air pollution, posing significant challenges to sustainable urban living.
11. Urban Crime
The more people are congested in urban areas, the higher the unemployment rate, and that’s simply because the available jobs are not enough to accommodate all.
Lack of employment increases poverty, making it even harder for people to get the essential things they need to survive. People then turn to poverty-related crimes such as theft, conning, murder, and organized crime to earn a living.
These acts make cities very hard for people to live in as they are not guaranteed their safety, especially for victims who cannot defend themselves in such situations.
12. Increased Rates of Poverty
The process of global urbanization can have adverse effects on poverty levels. With an increase in unemployment rates, a growing number of individuals find themselves slipping below the poverty line.
Furthermore, rapid urban population growth often leads to congestion, overwhelming state governments and causing difficulties in accurately tracking and providing necessary services to the population.
This can result in extreme forms of poverty, where individuals are forced to live on the streets with limited access to basic necessities like food and water.
The consequences of poverty extend beyond mere financial hardship. The overall standard of living for those affected deteriorates to the point where it can become inhumane.
In a world where wealth accumulates in the hands of a few, while the poor become increasingly impoverished, poverty emerges as one of the most significant threats to human well-being and existence.
Urbanization causes malnutrition, especially for poor families in the urban areas of a country. As basic needs are more expensive in the cities, poor families do not have enough resources to purchase healthy and complete food for themselves.
With the lack of nutritious diets, the poor areas are experiencing more illnesses as they are more susceptible to infections, causing loss of appetite and eventually malnutrition.
In addition, urbanization contributes to significant environmental contamination, which affects food ingredients by introducing toxic chemicals. An example of this is the unhygienic preparation of street foods, leading to the spread of food-borne diseases.
Plus, the lack of nutrition intake and micronutrient deficiency weaken the immune systems of people, making them more susceptible to diseases. This shows how urbanization leads to undernutrition, especially among the poor.
With more sick and underweight people, the environment is being affected by the lack of a proper state of mind of people, leading to more irresponsible and careless actions that disrupt the planet.
You may wonder how obesity and urbanization connect, but the fact is that obesity is another major global urbanization problem.
You see, as urbanization continues, more physical spaces are occupied, leading to fewer spaces for people to move about. In fact, due to overpopulation in urban areas, majority of the people are beginning to work remotely from the comfort of their homes.
Limited physical activity due to sedentary lifestyles, such as working in front of a computer, means people don’t burn many calories, leading to potential weight gain and an imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure, and that’s where obesity creeps in.
In addition, in urban areas, the focus on work and meeting daily demands often results in a lack of prioritization for recreational activities. This leads to limited opportunities for calorie burning and may even cause mental problems among individuals.
15. Environmental Hazards
Urbanization leads to the development of land areas that used to be filled with trees and other plants that help reduce the risks of natural disasters. Due to urbanization, more trees are being cut, resulting in fewer plants to absorb carbon dioxide and helping in reducing flash floods and landslides.
With more urban developments, there are fewer areas for plants to grow in the cities, which leads to such hot weather, contributing a lot to the emission of greenhouse gases and the severity of global warming.
Other than that, with more urbanization, more resources are also needed, meaning more trees are being cut in the forest to provide paper and other materials urban developers need.
This leads to more environmental hazards, as the less forest we have, the more at risk we could be from natural calamities. For example, most cities are usually flooded when a typhoon or hurricane hits the area. It shows how the lack of plants in the cities leads to less absorption of rainwater, leading to flash floods.
16. Decrease in Animal Population
Connected with more rural areas being converted to cities, the habitats of animals are being consumed as well. With more forests being cleared for more urban resources, more wildlife is being jeopardized, decreasing their population.
But that’s not all; the major effects of urbanization, like global warming, also affect the animal population.
For example, glaciers are melting in some areas of the world, leading to the destruction of animal habitats like those of polar bears. With that, more animals are dying, which could possibly even lead to the extinction of some animal species.
With urbanization’s waste being thrown into the ocean and land, and smoke in the air, more implications for animals are happening. Some animals die due to inhaling toxic chemicals from urban areas; some die due to eating plastic waste and other toxic urban waste; and some die due to the lack of clean areas for them to inhabit as they are filled with urban waste.