Mumbai, like Jakarta, Dhaka, Kinshasa and many others, is facing a population explosion of unprecedented size. These rapidly expanding ‘megacities’ are raising concerns from economists, urban planners and other experts.
A ‘megacity’ is any city with a population greater than 10 million. In 1990, there were only 10 megacities in the world, and combined, they housed about seven percent of the global population.
By 2014, the number of megacities had grown to 28, and 12 percent of the global population lives in one.
It is projected that by 2030, there will be 41 megacities. Today, just over half of the world’s population lives in cities or urban areas, but by 2050, that proportion is expected to swell to 66 percent. Most of that growth is expected to happen in Asia and Africa, specifically in lower-income countries. India, China and Nigeria will together account for 37 percent of all urbanization growth.
John Wilmoth, director of U.N. DESA’s Population Division, stated that, “Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 UN development agenda.”
The recent increase in the rate of urbanization is unprecedented, but the causes are fairly clear. People flock to cities for jobs, amenities, healthcare, education and security. Cities often have better public transportation, better paying jobs and a more resilient job market than rural areas. In some countries, cities are more likely to have a working sanitation system, electricity and Internet access.
Unfortunately, not all who move into megacities find what they are looking for. Many megacities are in developing countries, and their governments have been unwilling or unable to match the expansion of public services to the expansion of population these megacities have faced.
The result is living conditions which might politely be called ‘Dickensian.’ Currently, one in every thirty city dwellers lacks clean water. One in fifteen lacks adequate sanitation, and one in six lives in a city with unhealthy air quality. Sexually transmitted diseases like AIDs are an ever-present threat, as is urban violence and theft. Many areas in megacities are structurally unsound, having been built quickly and sloppily, or having been assembled out of refuse by its inhabitants.
Megacities are also facing an ‘invisible epidemic’ of road-related injuries. As the number of cars and drivers grow faster than the infrastructure can support, more and more people are suffering serious accidents. By one estimate, developing countries account for 85 percent of the world’s traffic fatalities.
Residents of the megacities themselves are not the only ones suffering negative consequences for their inefficiencies. Most megacities are growing so fast that infrastructure, when it is considered, must take precedence over the environment. This means that megacities usually have enormous carbon footprints. Traffic congestion, inadequate waste management and poor regulation make megacities huge sources of greenhouse gases, toxic chemicals and garbage.
Megacities will not stop growing, but perhaps if people invested more in infrastructure and services, they could grow into places that are pleasant to live in.
– Marina Middleton