Urbanization and its environmental health impact


Urbanization is the population shift from rural to urban areas setting, “the gradual increase in the proportion of people living in urban areas” and the ways in which each society adapts to the change (Barney, 2015).

Peter (2009) stated that urbanization is not merely the increase in number of urban residents or expanding of urban areas, but more importantly, it’s about a complete change in terms of industrial structures, employment, living standard and social security.

The growth in urban area comes from both the increase in migration to cities and the fertility of urban populations. Much of urban migration is driven by rural area offer. Urban advantage includes greater opportunity to receive education, health care and services such as entertainment, the urban poor have less opportunity for education than the urban non-poor but still have more chance than rural population.

In 1800, only about 2 percent of the world’s population lived in urban area. Until in century age, urban area was one of the unhealthiest places for the people to live. The increased density of populations in urban area led to the rapid spread of infectious disease. Consequently death rate in urban areas historically was higher than in rural area. The way urban areas maintained their existence until recently was by the continual immigration of rural people (Micton, 2008).

For proper understanding of the impact of urbanization, the following will be reviewed.

  • Types of urbanization
  • Causes of urbanization
  • Effects of urbanization
  • Ways of minimizing the impact of urbanization

Types of urbanization

Paine (2000) classified into three (3) basis groups. They include:

  • Re-urbanization
  • Sub-urbanization
  • Counter urbanization


Re-urbanization is the growth and development that help increase the number of people living and working within urban area. Re-urbanization can generate a number of social environment and economic benefit which include.

  • Create tax revenue resulting from new development
  • Create housing choice and improve affordability
  • It improves public health as a result of more active life styles,
  • It improves quantity of life.


Sub-urbanization is the growth on the fringe of cities, it is one of the many cause of the increase in urban sprawl. Many residents of metropolitan regions work with central urban area and choose to insatiate.

Sub-urbanization allows home price to decrease, so people can drive until they can find an area in which they can afford to buy a home. However, theses homes may lack certain things such as parks and access to public transport (Wikipedia, 2002).

Counter urbanization

Counter urbanization is a demographic and social process whereby people move from urban area to rural area beyond the outer suburbs the movement was stimulated by negative externalities of the city. Such as congestion, high price pollution and aided by the increasing mobility of the population (Paine, 2000).

Causes of urbanization

Urbanizations occurs as individuals, government and commercial entities move from one geographical location to another in order to source for a better and more healthful living in cities, permits the advantage of the opportunities of proximity, diversity, and market place competition.

Cities are known to be place where money, service and wealth are centralized. Many rural inhabitants come to cities for reasons of seeking fortune and social mobility (Bora, 2012).

Business which provide jobs and exchange capital are more concentrated in urban area, whether the source is trade or tourism, it is also through the port or banking system that foreign money flows into a country, commonly located in cities.

According to Li (2009), there are two major causes of urbanization which are:

  • Rural flight
  • Education

 Rural flight

Rural flight is a contributing factor to urbanization in rural areas often on small fairly farm or collective farm in village, it has traditionally been difficult to access manufactured goods though over-all quality of life is very subjective and many may certainly surpass that of the city (Sridhar, 2007).

Milton (2008) stated that cities offer a large variety of services such as specialist services that aren’t found in rural areas. Support the provision of their service requires workers, resulting in more numerous and varied job opportunity. Some migrants choose to leave rural communities out of the desire to pursue greater economic opportunity in urban area. Thus, rural flight (or rural exodus) is the migratory pattern of peoples from rural areas into urban areas. It is urbanization seen from the rural perspective. In modern times, it often occurs in a region following the industrialization of agriculture when fewer people are needed to bring the same amount of agricultural services and industries are consolidated (Ronon & William,1991).


Varied and high quality educational opportunity is another factor in urban migration as well as the opportunity to join, develop and seek out social community. Because of the high standard of education in cities parents are forced to send their children to cities to acquire quality education.

In most towns and villages, parents who are well to do, don’t allow their children to stay in such environment, because they believe that the environment they are effects the child negatively, while on the other hand, those who could send their children to school in cities, engage them in doing one major job or the other to source their daily living. This and many more account for the increase or rather cause of urbanization.

 Effects of urbanization

Health effect of urbanization

Unplanned rapid urbanization in Nigeria has given rise to problems such as overcrowding, contaminating of water, poor sanitation, air pollution and exposure to rodents and pest. Conditions which are favorable to the spread of serious disease such as cholera, diarrhea, etc. (Tinasha, 2002).

According to a United Nations report on Global Environmental Outlook (2000), these environmental problems in developing countries are now exacerbated by emerging problems of industrial and agricultural pollution. Chemicals used in both primary sectors are major factors in candy and worsening tuberculosis, bronchitis, heart disease, cancer and asthma. Increased exposure to chemical heals the risk in urban areas in particularly harmful to children and pregnant women.

Disease such as cholera and dysentery are prevalent due to lack of access to clean water and bad sanitation. This is because more than half of the population live in unsanitary and unhealthy condition and level of urban development are extremely high. This unhealthy condition is putting a huge strain on the country’s health system (Bola, 2012).

Owen (2007) stated that the poor are often cramped in the inadequate housing along flood plains or other areas that are vulnerable to pollution, because that is the only place where they can afford to rent or build accommodation in the urban part of the country. Due to the unhealthy environment, people living in this part of the urban area are predisposed to malaria, typhoid, cholera and others. However, the process of urbanization has often had hazardous impacts on the health of those who work and live in major village.

Housing which has direct effect on the health of people living within such vicinity has increase the risk of contracting non-communicable disease. Such as pneumonia, due to poor construction of the building, also those who work in residential environment may be further affected when their production process generates some form of industrial pollution.

 Environmental effect of urbanization

In developed towns and cities, urbanization is continuing more slowly and only adding to the already existing problem of deforestation (Bore, 2012). Ejoor (2009) exclaimed the way in which deforestation affect the forest area, increase in pollution rate (air, water and land pollution) as a result of waste production and green house emission, and biodiversity loss.

Looking at these three areas, it is possible to see an emerging trend of urbanization immediate negative effect on the surrounding forest and country’s environmental well being.

 Social effect of urbanization

Generally speaking, urbanization upset traditional social patterns, extended families breakdown, etc. urbanization affects not only the family structure but also intra and inter family relationship as well as the functions the family performs.

With urbanization, there is a disruption of the bonds of community and the migrant facing the problem to replace old relationship with new ones and to find a satisfactory means of continuing relationship with those left behind. Several empirical studies of urban facilities conducted by scholars like Kapadia and Aher Ross have pointed out that urban joint family is shrinking, and kingship relationship is confined to two or three generations only. Urbanization has also lead to different social vices such as prostitution, arm robbery, rape etc. as a result of individual trying to meet up to their needs and social functions (Blackman, 2006).

 Ways of minimizing the impact of urbanization

As urban area in developing countries becomes even more crowded over the next quarter century, government and citizen will face a growing challenge. According to the United Nations (UN) human settlement programmed, cities will become the “tested for the adequacy of political institution, and the effectiveness of programmed” to contact social exclusion, project and repair the environment, and promote human development (Ankerl, 2006).

Nevertheless, many steps can be taken to address the problem of rapid urbanization among the developing countries. Some of the measures are listed below:

  • Improving urban governance
  • Good site location building
  • Legislative and enforcement of building bye-law codes.
  • Total reconstruction of an area.
  • Monitoring and surveillance
  • Use of standard material for construction

 Improving urban governance

This include not only urbanization but of relationship between political and administrative institutions, but also the relationship between government, private institution and civil society (Park, 2007).

The UN defined governance as the “sum of ways through which individuals and institution both public and private, plan and damage their common affairs. The necessity for providing affordable housing may be a mirage, but every citizen expert’s government to provide shelter for all, but could start from a level till it reaches a certain percentage which would later be by the private policy. If this is started by the government, it will be supported by the private sector and there would be an extensive house ownership with more involvement in the city’s civic affair and attention to quality of life issues.

Legislation and enforcement of building code/bye-law

Government should provide the political will and legislative building code and regulation to guide acquisition of landed property, erection of structures, and basic housing facilities in the area. Such legislations could then be implemented and enforced by the relevant agencies of government without fear and favor. This will go a long way to reduce cases of building collapse, structure failure or deterioration (Encarta, 2002). It will also prevent alteration of approved plan and urban layout (Habitat, 2009).

Monitoring and surveillance

No single set of policies can meet all the challenges of urbanization without effective monitoring and surveillance. Rather, there should be sensible policy approach to monitor through effective surveillance of the considered option for urban renewal agencies. Better government through the appropriate institutional frame work is essential of we are to improve urban living conditions (Encarta, 2009).

 Town planning

A town or city planning tool is known as concept plan. There should be a strategic development frame work that could be updated every decade. The plan should be drawn up to include a set broad-based development and recreational facilities. The planning process should not only include government agencies but also citizens and communities and allows for local development planning by neighborhood (Dasa, 2000).

Good site location of buildings

There must be a good site location before purpose, if the site is marshy or water logged, it should be properly sand filled with stones and gravel. Under no circumstance should residential premises be constructed on a reclaimed land site (Li, 2007).

 Use of standard material for constructions

Material used for the construction of building should be of superior quality. Inferior or low value improvised material should not be used in house construction as their disadvantages outstands (out-numbered) the disadvantages.

Standard government policy on housing investment must be accepted by government as part of her responsibility to provide all necessary affordable housing for its populace (Ogu, 2001).


Urbanization is associated with several impact on the environments due to the pressure imposed on the environment as a result of increase in population, change in industrial structure, living standards and societal security. Urbanization is known to occur in three basic forms which are re-urbanization, sub-urbanization and counter urbanization which is caused by rural flight and education. The environmental impacts which come with urbanization include the problem of deforestation and other social vices.


In other to control the impact of urbanization in the environment, the following is recommended.

  • There should be effective land survey to ensure that lands meant for development are checked before they can be develop, also the town planners should work hand in hand with the land surveyors.
  • There should be enforcement of law that will guide or regulate the volume of emission from industries which can be tolerated to both man and the environment.
  • Government should also engage the masses on skill development and employment so as to discourage rape, arm robbery, prostitution etc.
  • There should be effective sanitation monitoring that will create an environment free from anthropogenic effects.


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