Meanwhile and continuing our population theme it may be worth spending a moment on population density in the developing world too. Commenting on this post Axstane writes: This logic tells us that Nigeria, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil are all very well off indeed since they have dramatically increasing populations. Their slums, crime rates and unemployment are all features of a healthy society?
Actually, yes they are. Apart from any other consideration, urbanisation will most probably reduce birth-rates in the developing world, not increase them. Moreover, the great migration to the city is evidence of urban success and rural failure, not the other way round. (Paradoxically, much of our development budget is spent on keeping people in the countryside, not the cities where many of them might have a better, if more crowded, future.)
Rio’s favelas may look terrible and sometimes they are terrible places but the average Brazilian living in a favela is still wealthier than the average Brazilian toiling in rural poverty. Ed Glaeser’s terrific book, The Triumph of the City, asks us to consider what’s wrong with cities in the developing world that don’t attract the rural poor? For all their problems (and they are many), the great cities of the developing world offer their residents greater opportunity than the lives they left behind in the countryside. As Glaeser puts it:
"Cities aren’t full of poor people because cities make people poor, but because cities attract poor people with the prospect of improving their life.
[...] The extreme-poverty rate in Lagos, when corrected for higher prices in the city, is less than half the extreme-poverty rate in rural Nigeria. About three-quarters of Lagos residents have access to safe drinking water, a figure that is horribly low but that is far higher than anyplace else in Nigeria, where the norm is less than 30 percent. Kolkata [sic] is also considered a place of great deprivation but the poverty rate in that city is 11 percent while the poverty rate in West Bengal is 24 percent. In recent years, more than 10 percent of West Bengal’s residents have faced food shortages; the comparable figure for urban residents is less than 1 percent."
As I say, this brings problems – of congestion, public health and over-crowding – too, many of them comparable to the tensions produced by the nineteenth century shift to cities such as Manchester or Glasgow. The problem is not newly-arrived poor people; rather it is poverty that endures for generations. That’s an entirely different set of policy dilemmas, however.
Rio, Lagos, Calcutta and the others are few western people’s idea of nirvana but these matters are relative and dependent upon your initial perspective. Again, this doesn’t mean these cities don’t face great challenges since, yet again, increased population density necessarily produces trade-offs of its own and, evidently, has consequences for existing residents of these cities. But the alternatives are not cost-free either and for many of those most intimately affected, often less appealling too.Tags: Africa, Cities, Economics, India, International development, Population