1.4.2  Environmental challenges

Urbanisation can have a major effect on the environment in the following areas.

Challenges emerging from rural-urban interaction

Urban centres are usually surrounded by rural communities and the two areas depend on each other to supply many of their needs. Urban areas depend on the rural areas to provide food, fuel and construction materials. In return, the rural community depends on urban areas to supply employment, commercial products, advanced healthcare provision, education and equipment, machinery, and other industrial outputs. Having said this, problems may arise when there is a large temporary influx of people from the rural to the urban areas. Examples include:

  • the increased demand for sanitation facilities in the area around a city market
  • the manure generated by animals that are brought for sale or used for transport (Figure 1.6)
  • the congestion caused by the number of people and animals using the roads.
Figure 1.6  An animal market in Addis Ababa.

Challenges emerging from the urban situation

Even without the influxes from rural areas, urban centres are congested and crowded. They have often grown without any planning, so the problems arising from the lack of sanitation, waste management and the other infrastructure mentioned above are present. Urban growth also means that there is an increase in the area of land covered with concrete and other hard surfaces.

  • Why would an increase in the area of land covered with concrete or other hard surface be a problem?

  • When rainwater falls on soil it will usually soak in. When it falls on concrete it runs off the surface and can cause flooding if the rainfall is heavy.

Urban development reduces the ability of the ground to absorb rainwater. In urban areas a high proportion of the ground is paved, which prevents the absorption of rainwater. Also, unplanned developments usually lack the drainage ditches or channels necessary to carry away surface waters. These two factors combine to create an increased risk of flooding and the outbreak of waterborne disease that can follow floods.

Challenges from industrial discharges

Most industries in developing countries discharge untreated or partially treated liquid wastes to sewers, where these are available, or to rivers, streams or ditches. Industries also release waste gases that may contain harmful substances and produce solid wastes that may contain hazardous materials (such as poisons, strong acids, infectious material, etc. that can cause harm to humans because of their properties). As a result, unregulated industries can harm human health and the environment in many ways.

Challenges from transport

We have already mentioned problems from traffic congestion, but the use of a large number of often badly maintained petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars, lorries and buses cause additional health problems. The exhaust gases from these vehicles contain fine particles, partly burned fuel and acidic substances that make breathing difficult and cause irritation of the lungs. While this is a problem for all people, it is much worse for the old, the very young and the ill, especially those with heart problems or who suffers from asthma.

1.4.1 The trend of urbanisation

1.4.3  Challenges to society