opinionBy Abiy Hailu
In the last quarter of 2011, the world population reached the seven billion mark. This historic event, according to the UN System Task Team On The Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, took place 12 years after the six billion mark.
It took 123 years to double from one to two billion but only 33 years to cross the three-billion threshold. Although demographic growth is slowing down in the whole world, the fact that it has taken the ever shortest time to add one extra billion signals a major shift in both the pace and scale of global demographics. An important facet of this shift is the historic milestone achieved in 2007 when more than half of the global population was living in cities and towns, thus making urban centres the dominant habitat for humankind.
This seemingly geographical shift has tremendous implications for the current and future dynamics of human development. As to the task team's thematic think piece "Sustainable urbanization" the change in the dominant habitat of world population makes the process of urbanization to be among the most significant global trends of the twenty-first century. Cities and urban places in general now occupy the centre stage in global development. They no longer function as mere spaces for settlement, production and services. They now profoundly shape and influence social and political relations at every level; determining advances and setbacks in modes of production; and providing new content to norms, culture and aesthetics. Cities have become a major locus of power and politics consequently influencing vision achievement and dictating policy outcomes. They are also a major factor in environmental trends and sustainability processes. Urbanization is thus providing the setting, the underlying base, and also the momentum for not only national and regional but also global change.
Urbanization has become a major phenomenon in developing countries. Interestingly, only 60 years ago or so (1950), the number of people living in urban centres was slightly higher in the developed nations (58.5 per cent, or 426.9 million) compared to developing countries. By 1970, the proportion of people living in urban and rural areas was virtually equal at around 630 million. Today, of every 10 urban residents in the world more than seven are found in developing countries, which are also hosts to an overwhelming proportion of the world population. Moreover, of the 187,066 new city dwellers that will be added to the world's urban population every day between 2012 and 2015, 91.5 per cent, or 171,213, will be born in a developing countries.
In Ethiopian context, the rate of urbanization had been in slow pace because of the country's history of agricultural self-sufficiency, which had reinforced rural peasant life. Ethiopia has registered a rapid economic growth in the past eight years. In fact, the country is envisioning to reach middle income status over the coming twenty years by transforming its economic base from agriculture to industry. In this regard, urbanization and urban centres would play crucial role in achieving these goals. As a matter of fact, based on the GTP, the nation has launched the construction of both metropolitan light train and nationwide train line which reasonably would further boost the growth of urban centres.
Over the past several years, the government has given due emphasis to urbanization and the construction sector. The country has been witnessing a rapid growth of urban centres in various parts of the country. The growth and emergence of promising new urban centres support this claim. In the past, the major urban centre which has been the centre of large scale urbanization and rural-urban migration is the capital Addis Ababa. However, the rapid growth of other urban centres like Hawassa, Adama, Bahir-Dar, Dire-Dawa, Makalle and other industry centres and state capitals will be sharing the burden of and creating further urbanization.
As part of the government's effort to promote sustainable and well planned growth in urban centres, this week, the nation is marking the Fourth Cities' Week in the city of Adama where over 136 cities across the country take part. The event is aimed at sustaining urban development and is being marked under the theme "Our cities will achieve Meles' vision being sources of industrialists".
As to Dessalegn Ambaw, State Minister of Urban Development and Construction, the seven pillars of this year's cities' day are small and micro enterprises development and job opportunity creation, modernizing urban land development and management system, facilitating urban housing supply, strengthening construction industry, urban infrastructure access increment, improving urban people participation and ensuring good governance as well as urban sanitation and beautification activities.
In deed, these are crucial as the country is transferring itself economically as well as in various aspects of development. This is because economic growth and transformation requires achieving the above pillars in urban areas to bring about industrialization and address the challenges of the urban development like job creation, housing supply, construction, good governance and the likes.
As the economy grows further, it is a clear fact that the rural-urban migration would further increase. Normally, urban development is planned by architects, engineers and economists. Besides being centers of economic development, cities are at the same time focal points of social , cultural and economic alterations. They are also arenas of accelerated social transformations. Hence, sociologists and the likes also make constructive contributions by planning the socio-cultural aspects of the expansion of urban areas as urbanization also bring about lifestyle changes. In this regard, in the long run, there is a need for experts in such professions to conduct research and support policy makers on how to deal with urbanization related socio-cultural changes and adapt to lifestyle changes.
This being the fact, somehow urbanization is also related with various social problems like violence and crime, prostitution, drug abuse, child labour and the likes. Thus, when planning urbanization, various socio-cultural issues need to be taken in to consideration. Beneath urbanization are questions of needs, demands and capacities to deliver for the growing population whose life base is fundamentally changing. While expanding and building cities, a whole set of relations and ways of thinking about new agenda items will develop. For example, just like the entire environmental agenda needs to be recast when the urbanization dimension is factored in, the above urban social problems have to be dealt with.
The very phenomenon of rapid increase in population movement from rural to urban centres would lead to changing population structure, its composition and lifestyles in cities and their fringes. As a consequent of population pressure on urban system and infrastructure, the urban concentrates are faced with several social and economic challenges. According to Touraine, cities, mirrors of society, reflect maldevelopment and the price of modernity. The predominant picture is one of fragmented or dual cities, characterized by phenomena of social exclusion, spatial segregation and mounting urban violence. The fact that economic growth and social change have taken place would result to the emergence of new problems in cities. Some scholars emphasis that cities advertise society's inequalities in income, housing, and other social resources, whether these problems are old or new.
Social researches indicate that as the rate of urbanization increases, so do its adverse effects. There would be increasing competition for facilities due to the high standard of living in urban areas, which triggers several challenges including slums, low access to sanitation, illiteracy, unemployment and the above mentioned social problems which are more prevalent in urban areas.
In the eyes of many observers, rapid urbanization is linked to problems of social adaptation and absorption of the newly urban dwellers in their new urban settings. In some cases, urban dwellers are seen as adapting slowly or not at all to changes which would create urban social problems. Thus, experts in the fields have to conduct researches on how to cope with the negative effects of urbanization and the social, cultural and economic adjustment of newly urban dwellers.
In most cases, planners and administrators of urbanization and urban areas usually give priority to the economic and physical aspects of urban centres. In addition, they should also give due emphasis to social and cultural issues as they are crucial for building a better society.