Magazine article Insight on the News

Overpopulated Megacities Face Frightening Future

Magazine article Insight on the News

Overpopulated Megacities Face Frightening Future

Article excerpt

While developing nations must cope directly with huge population surges, urban sprawl in the Third World will affect the United States through migration and the spread of disease.

The explosive growth of cities around the world -- especially the rise of huge, nation-sized Third World metropolises -- has U.S. scientists and officials worried. Chief among their concerns: "Megacities" defined as places with more than 10 million inhabitants, increasingly will serve as incubators of disease, economic disruptions and endless political crises.

Importantly, authorities fear sprawling Third World cities that lack clean water, sewage disposal, health care and adequate municipal services will swell the already-large flow of illegal immigrants seeking better lives in the United States. There is ample evidence that desperate migrants will sell themselves into servitude or risk their lives to enter developed countries. As many as 50,000 women and girls are smuggled into the United States each year to serve the sex trade, according to official reports. Recently, 58 Chinese were found suffocated in a truck in Dover, England, while others were found dead in a cargo container at the port of Seattle.

It is difficult to believe that the rural poor in developing nations are so mis-informed, frustrated and gullible as to embrace false rumors of good jobs, schooling and a higher standard of living in big cities. But people keep crowding into places such as Silo Paulo, Brazil (more than 16 million); Bombay, India (more than 15 million); and Lagos, Nigeria (more than 11 million). By 2015, Shanghai will harbor more than 23 million people; Jakarta, Indonesia, 21 million; Silo Paulo and Karachi, Pakistan, 20 million each; Beijing, 19 million; and Mexico City, 18.8 million.

In 1970, 80 percent of the populations of developing countries lived in rural areas where the living may have been frugal and hard but the air was fresh, the water relatively clean and disease spread comparatively slowly. Now just about half of the world's population resides in the countryside, while some 2.5 billion people live in cities. In 30 years, the number of city dwellers will double to 5 billion -- 70 percent in cities of the developing world, according to predictions. The Third World will harbor 22 of the globe's 26 huge metro areas.

"The cities are magnets, and the attraction is hope," says urban specialist George Bugliarello, chancellor of the Polytechnic University of Brooklyn, N.Y., and a leading member of the National Research Council. Yet millions in Bombay, Jakarta, Karachi, Mexico City and other cities live among packed, narrow streets with open sewers or no sewers at all. It's common for large families to live without water or electricity in houses made of scrap pillaged from dumps. In such places, toddlers play in piles of filth, breathing toxic air and swatting insects. Such poorly managed cities with scant municipal services become incubators of disease.

U.S. officials contend that, as a humanitarian nation, the United States must help these ballooning cities cope. They also argue that it's in the country's self-interest to do so. Indeed, many consider it a matter of national security. Tuberculosis, cholera and AIDS spread quickly in packed megacities and from there to the developed world within hours, as air travel becomes more and more routine. …

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