Contrary to popular perception, much of the urban growth witnessed in India is not due to migration, says the State of World Population 2007 report released by the United Nations Population Fund on Wednesday.
“A recent assessment of the components of urban growth 1961-2001 found that the share of urban growth attributable to urban natural increase ranged from 51% to about 65% over the period,” the report says.
The report also forecasts that more than half the world’s population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in cities by next year; by 2030, that number could increase to five billion.
The key challenge for countries would be making provisions for urban growth.
Unless urban planners make provision for this inevitability, particularly in the developing world, towns and cities risk being swamped, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, head of UNFPA, said in London. “If we want to capitalize on the potential of this urban migration, then we should change our mindset.”
“Policies have to be changed and the proper investments and programmes have to be made,” she said. “Slums, poverty and violence exist because urban growth has not been well managed.”
Between 2000 and 2030, Asia’s urban population will double to 2.6 billion people, while Africa’s will more than double to 742 million from 294 million. By 2030, the two regions will account for nearly seven out of every 10 urban residents.
The world’s two most populous countries, India and China, together account for nearly 37% of the world’s population, with cities in these two countries expected to grow at 2.7% and 2.3%, respectively.
Some sociologists, however, have questioned the UNFPA claim that migration will not be a major factor in pushing urban population growth in India. “Birth growth rates in urban areas in India are very close to zero. And with metropolitan areas having large hinterlands, migration will happen,” saidAshis Nandy, a social scientist with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.
A little less than 30% of India’s population currently lives in cities. By the year 2030, the report says, urban areas will hold almost 590 million or 40% of the population.
The report also says poverty in rural towns is much higher than in cities and medium sized towns with million plus population.
“In India, there is an inherent suspicion of urbanization, what I call countryside conservatism. There is nothing wrong, per se, with urbanization,” said Union minister for urban development Jaipal Reddy.
Referring to the the government’s policy of discouraging migration through rural employment schemes, the minister argued that urbanization was an inevitable byproduct of industrialization.
“Many countries do it brazenly, some countries, including ours, do it subtly. I don’t think it (discouraging migration) is either feasible or desirable,” he added.
But the cost of laying infrastructure for urban sprawls leaves the government with no option but encourage vertical growth, Reddy added.
The minister also said the answer was not to try and counteract the growth of cities but to provide services and infrastructure.
The government is committed to providing small, planned apartments to slum dwellers in Delhi, Reddy said.
An estimated 6,00,000 families live in shanty towns across the Capital, according to an approach paper for the 11th Plan.
Reuters contributed to this story.