The Changing Face of Disease: Implications for Society

By Nick Mascie-Taylor; Jean Peters et al. | Go to book overview

5

Urban pollution, disease and the health of children

L.M. Schell and Elaine A. Hills


Urban growth

Since human populations established sedentary life approximately 10,000 years ago, urban population growth has been continuous, and over the past two hundred years, urban growth has been dramatic. By 2030 more than 60 per cent of the world population will be living in urban places (Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2000). In the more economically developed regions, 84 per cent of the population will be urban and in the lesser developed areas, 57 per cent of the population will be urban (Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2000).

A substantial slowdown in urban growth is not likely despite slight changes in the rate of urbanization in recent years. Although the rate of urban growth declines, the base of urban population is large and increasing, and the average annual increment in numbers of persons is steadily becoming larger. Between 1990 and 1995, a period with a relatively low rate of urban population growth, 59 million new urban dwellers were added to the world's population, 98 per cent of whom were in less developed countries. The fastest and greatest urban growth will be in the lesser and least developed countries, areas that anthropologists often study. Indeed, the less developed countries will contain 80 per cent of the world's urban population by 2030 (Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2000).

A less visible but equally important trend is the growth of mega-cities, cities with a population of 10 million or more. In 1950 only New York was a mega-city. Ten years later Tokyo had become one and by 1975 there were five. In 1995 there were 14. By 2015 there are expected to be 26 worldwide and 22 of these will be in the less developed countries.

There is no apparent barrier to continued urban growth. Infectious disease might be considered a barrier to further growth, but in the past and in many places currently, urban populations have grown despite infectious disease. The growth engine is fueled by the economic advantages that individuals experience or expect to experience as a result of their urban residence. This motivation is similar to the pull of urban places that existed in 18th- and 19th-century Europe but, unlike earlier times, it is not balanced by a high urban death rate to keep the urban population from growing rapidly (Weber 1967; Bogin 1988).

Not only are urban places growing but the effect of urban places on non-urban ones is growing also. In the US and many other countries, the commodification

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