You are on page 1of 4

Urbanization and its effect on the Environment of Urban Areas

Urbanization refers to general increase in population and the amount of industrialization of a settlement.
It includes increase in the number and extent of cities. It symbolizes the movement of people from rural to
urban areas. Urbanization happens because of the increase in the extent and density of urban areas.
According to The Department of Economic and Social Affairs, half of the global population already lives
in cities, and by 2050 two-thirds of the world's people are expected to live in urban areas. But in cities
two of the most pressing problems facing the world today also come together: poverty and environmental
The majority of people move to cities and towns because they view rural areas as places with hardship
and backward/primitive lifestyle. Therefore, as populations move to more developed areas (towns and
cities) the immediate outcome is urbanization. This normally contributes to the development of land for
use in commercial properties; social and economic support institutions, transportation, and residential
buildings. Eventually, these activities raise several urbanization issues.
Poor air and water quality, insufficient water availability, waste-disposal problems, andon density and
demands of urban environments. Strong city planning will be essential in managing these and other
difficulties as the world's urban areas swell.
Environmental Effects of Urbanization

Air pollution

The large number of motor vehicles and industrial pollution in a combined geographical space makes air
quality in urban areas extremely poor. According to the World Health Organisation, the concentration of
suspended particles should be less than 90 micrograms per cubic meter. However, in cities all across the
world, this number is much higher, for example in China only 8 out of 74 of the biggest cities passed the
governments basic air quality test in 2014 (BBC, 2015). High concentrations of particles damages human
health directly causing a range of respiratory diseases and exacerbating heart diseases (World Health
Organisation, 2010). Studies have shown a correlation between increasing pollution and deaths
caused by respiratory problems, results from 7 cities in India found that in the early 1990's air pollution
was responsible for 24,000 premature fatalities, and this rose to 37,000 by the mid-1990's (United Nations
Environment Programme, 2002). It is estimated that for 18 cities in Eastern and Central Europe,
approximately 18,000 premature deaths could be prevented and $1.2 billion a year is lost in working time
because of illnesses related to poor air quality could be regained if the European Union pollution
standards for soot and dust was met (World Bank, 2000).

Growth of Urban Population in China

The highest people at risk are urban dwellers in developing countries, especially India and China. In
2014, India admitted that New Delhi matched Beijing for air pollution affecting public health, after a
World Health Organisation declared the Indian Capital had the dirtiest air in the world (The Guardian,
2014). Air quality appears that it will be getting even worse in China as rapid urbanisation is increasing
demand for energy and with China's heavy use of coal for energy, more emissions will be released in to
the atmosphere.

Elevated emissions of air pollutants and GHGs

This is a consequence of urban industry, emissions from cars, and the electricity demand. Around the
world, companies use fossil fuels such as coal and petrol to generate electricity. Burning these compounds
leads to an increase in air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions. They represent a health and
environmental hazard, for they contribute to the formation of smog and the precipitation of acid rain.
Urban GHG emissions are largely responsible for global warming and climate change.

Water pollution

Urbanisation is described as one of the most destructive forces affecting stream health and watersheds.
Urbanising these watersheds, replacing the vegetation with impervious services, reduces the infiltration
area where groundwater can occur. Thus, resulting in a greater amount of water arriving at a stream more
quickly, rising the frequency of more severe flooding. This runoff creates another problem, water
pollution. As stormwater flows over surfaces, it picks up potential pollutants that include pesticides,
fertilisers, bacteria (from human and animal waste), metals, petroleum (leaking vehicles), and sediments.
This water can be detrimental to animals, plants, and humans (U.S Geological Survey, 2014). An example
of urbanization directly causing water pollution is the Citarum river in Indonesia, with 30 million
residents reliant on the water for agricultural, personal, and domestic use. However, since the 1980's there
has been unregulated factory growth since the areas industrialisation, which has choked the river with
human and industrial waste. Citarum river is now claimed to be the most polluted in the world.

It was reported 2.5 billion people globally did not have access to improved sanitation facilities.
Comparing estimates from 2008 with those of 2000, there is an indication of a deterioration in sanitation
coverage and water in urban areas. Throughout those 8 years, in cities of all sizes, people without access
to basic tap water in the immediate vicinity or at their homes increased by 114 million, whilst people
without access to basic sanitation toilets increased by 114 million, see figure 4, a 20% increase in
individuals living in cities who do not have access to basic facilities (UN Water, 2014).

Natural habitats

There is a strong correlational link between increasing urbanisation and declining biodiversity. The
increasing population is a catalyst for the expansion of urban areas, which in turn increases the demand
for natural resources, for example fossil fuels and timber, see figure 5. This inevitably results in the
destruction of habitats. In the United Kingdom there is an increasing human population density, and it
was found that within the surrounding urbanised areas, 35% of scarce plant species had become extinct as
a direct result in the increase of urban development.


Urbanization has led to reduced physical activity and unhealthy nutrition. The World Health Organization
predicts that by 2020, non-communicable diseases such as heart disease will account for 69 percent of all
deaths in developing countries. Another urbanization-related threat is infectious diseases. Air travel
carries bacteria and viruses from one country to the next. In addition, people relocating from rural areas
are not immune to the same diseases as long-time city residents, which puts them at a greater risk of
contracting a disease.

Change in Weather

Urban consumption of energy helps create heat islands that can change local weather patterns and weather
downwind from the heat islands. The heat island phenomenon is created because cities radiate heat back
into the atmosphere at a rate 15 percent to 30 percent less than rural areas. The combination of the
increased energy consumption and difference in albedo (radiation) means that cities are warmer than rural
areas (0.6 to 1.3 C).16 And these heat islands become traps for atmospheric pollutants. Cloudiness and fog
occur with greater frequency. Precipitation is 5 percent to 10 percent higher in cities; thunderstorms and
hailstorms are much more frequent, but snow days in cities are less common.

Flood Threats

Urbanization also affects the broader regional environments. Regions downwind from large industrial
complexes also see increases in the amount of precipitation, air pollution, and the number of days with
thunderstorms.17 Urban areas affect not only the weather patterns, but also the runoff patterns for water.
Urban areas generally generate more rain, but they reduce the infiltration of water and lower the water
tables. This means that runoff occurs more rapidly with greater peak flows. Flood volumes increase, as do
floods and water pollution downstream.


 Reduce air pollution by upgrading energy use and alternative transport systems.
 Create private-public partnerships to provide services such as waste disposal and housing.
 Plant trees and incorporate the care of city green spaces as a key element in urban planning.
 Reconnecting cities with surrounding rural areas
 Do your best to ensure that the waste you dispose of ends up where it should.
 Recycle the materials that are recyclable in your area and make sure to reduce the likelihood of
your garbage ending up in the environment by keeping a lid on your trash can when it’s outside.
 Reduce infrastructures for cars and increase green spaces
 Increase urban access to nature

It is often said that the battle for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be won or
lost in cities, which is why SDG 11 – making cities inclusive, safe and sustainable – is so important. 

You might also like