Identify the main migration strategies underlying rural-urban population movements in the Third World, and critically examine governments' responses to the phenomenon.

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Laura Kelly

BA (Hons) Geography

Reg: 199938141

Third World Urbanisation

“Identify the main migration strategies underlying rural-urban population movements in the Third World, and critically examine governments’ responses to the phenomenon.”

Third World population growth rates have been at the forefront of Third World population policy for many years, alarming local, national and international governments about the consequences of such growth. However, the more recent trend towards rapid urbanisation in developing countries across the world now seems to be a more significant and pressing issue in our contemporary times. During the course of this essay I will concentrate on the influence of internal migration on the rapid urbanisation of the Third World. I aim to identify and explain the main migration strategies that underlie such internal migration patterns, outlining relevant theories, models and perspectives. I will also outline the benefits and consequences of such population movements on both an aggregate and individual level. I will then examine the governmental response and policy implications of the urban phenomenon of the Third World, assessing the relative successes and/or failures of these actions, before investigating the criticism that these governments have come under in recent times.

‘One of the most significant of all postwar demographic phenomena and the one that promises to loom even larger in the future is the rapid growth of cities in developing countries.’ (Todaro, 1990; 263). Todaro’s argument here is underlined by Figure 1, below. This graph illustrates the ‘Estimated and Projected World Urban and Rural Population’ from 1950-2030, clearly showing the changing demographics of the world, with the urban population projected to overtake the rural population. According to United Nations Population Division (2000; 128) within 5 years, half of the world’s population will live in cities. By 2030 the urban population will reach 4.9 billion (60% of the world’s population). Nearly all population growth will be in the cities of developing countries, whose population will double to nearly 4 billion by 2030—about the size of the developing world’s total population in 1990. (UNPD, 2000).

Figure 1

To understand the underlying causes of 3rd world urbanisation, one must examine the impact of the global economy on third world cities, and particularly, the expansion of the world capitalist system into the third world. The emergence of the ‘New International Division of Labour’, where capitalist countries of the West shift their production units to the Third World cities to take advantage of reduced production costs, allowed Third World countries to expand their economies rapidly. However, the impact was highly selective as these Western countries tended to invest in just a few cities of the Third World, usually those major cities that have already invested in the necessary infrastructure to accommodate such large-scale modern activity. In these parts, relatively speaking living conditions were greatly improved, providing citizens with enhanced social and economic opportunity. However, this concentrated investment often leads to the emergence of urban primacy, where one single city dominates the entire country. This arguably reduces growth prospects in other parts of the country, and certainly encourages increased migration into the primate city. Another important aspect of the incorporation of Third World cities into the world economic system, in relation to internal migration, is that it introduced differentiation in rural societies. Previously these societies had been based on egalitarian values, however as development in the cities progressed, the rural dwellers began to realize their relative poverty, in terms of personal income, duration of employment and collective consumption of services, as compared to their urban counterparts. The fact that the vast majority of urbanites still live in very desperate conditions gives much insight into the squalor and poverty of life in the Third World. To illustrate, in ‘Cities at the Forefront’ article, the author tells of Marina Lupina, who lives in a shack built from discarded waste next to a refuse-clogged canal. ‘Despite her poverty, she believes that she and her children have more opportunity in the city than if they had remained in the countryside’. With such perceived benefits of city life, however, the attraction and magnitude of urban migration is greatly enhanced.  

The decision to migrate is pre-dominantly an economic process and a ‘consequence of a collective decision involving immediate and extended family members’ (Drakakis-Smith, 1992; 32). The disparities between rural and urban life have prompted many economic geographers to attempt to model these processes. Many models have been presented over the years, however the most accurate model comes from Brown (1991). This model, based on dissatisfaction with previous models, incorporates a structural scale with local scale. The model illustrates that the conditions that influence migration are development dependent, changing over time according to the level of development. For example, the level of development influences the level of technology, infrastructure, social and economic opportunities and government policy. These in turn affect the rate and pattern of migration. In more developed areas, job opportunities and wage rates are important, while in less developed areas, migration chains and information are more important.  This historical-structural model shows the complexity of migration, where the forces underlying migration strategies vary between countries, depend on level of development and vary within countries over time.

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There are four main migration strategies identifiable in the Third World. Firstly, there is Circular Migration, where the migrant, predominantly male, would travel to the city to seek employment on a short-term basis, usually a few months at a time. The male migrant would leave his wife and family in the rural village, in attempt to seize the best of both worlds, by reducing the expensive cost of housing his whole family in the city, whilst retaining his rural land revenue and/or food source. Owing to the limited female job opportunities in the cities and the fact that forfeiting ...

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