Migration has been critical to economic progress, education, and mobility. This global phenomenon has been reshaping cultures for ages. While migration has affected urban growth and development, it also brings challenges to both rural and urban areas. Rural-to-urban migration refers to people moving from rural to urban areas in quest of better opportunities, higher living standards, and access to critical services. The gap between rural and urban communities has grown in several countries around the world in recent years. Young people seeking opportunity and change are moving from their rural areas to the big cities, where the promise of expanded professional options, greater financial independence, and a new lifestyle typically outweigh the disadvantages. The surge in population often leads to urban overcrowding, exerting immense pressure on existing infrastructure, housing markets, transportation networks, and public services. Consequently, issues concerning sanitation, waste management, and traffic congestion emerge as pressing challenges, demanding innovative solutions for sustainable urban development.
What are the causes?
One of the primary drivers of rural-urban migration is the significant economic disparity between rural and urban areas. Many rural regions lack access to viable job opportunities, adequate income, and basic services, prompting individuals to seek better prospects in urban centers where industries, businesses, and services are concentrated.
Lack of Educational and Healthcare Facilities
Rural areas often suffer from limited educational and healthcare infrastructure. As a result, young individuals and families may migrate to urban areas in search of quality education and better healthcare facilities for themselves and their children.
The mechanisation and modernisation of agriculture have led to the consolidation of landholdings, reducing the need for manual labor. This shift can result in rural unemployment and subsequently drive people to cities, where alternative employment opportunities are available.
Natural Disasters and Climate Change
Rural regions are more vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters and climate change, affecting agricultural productivity and livelihoods. When faced with environmental challenges, some individuals opt to move to urban areas as a means of escaping hardship and seeking better living conditions. For instance, the 2022 monsoon floods have displaced 33 million people and killed more than 1000 people in the country (skynews, 2022).
Consequences of Rural to Urban Migration
Pakistan’s urbanisation rate is increasing, with 37.44% of the people living in major cities (Trading Economics, 2021). 40% of Pakistan’s urban population lives in slums due to a lack of means to afford housing (Anwar, Hasan, & Saqib, 2021). As rural migrants flock to urban centers, cities often experience population surges that lead to overcrowding. This puts immense strain on existing infrastructure, housing, transportation networks, and public services, resulting in challenges related to sanitation, waste management, and traffic congestion.
The influx of rural migrants in search of better opportunities drives up the demand for housing in urban areas. As a result, property prices escalate, and affordable housing becomes scarce, leaving many low-income families and migrants vulnerable to living in informal settlements and slums. There is an 8.5 million unit backlog of housing in Pakistan which is accelerating to 200,000 units per year (Hasan & Arif, 2018).
The Strain on Urban Services
The sudden surge in urban population due to migration places a heavy burden on essential services such as healthcare, education, and water supply. Pakistan is one of the top countries with poor access to clean water. Due to the lack of toilets, the use of dirty water, and poor hygiene, 289,000 children under the age of five die each year (Kunbhar, 2018). Inadequate provision of these services can negatively impact the quality of life for both migrants and long-term urban residents. For example, the average price of a property in Lahore in 2020 was US $73 per square foot, up 6.25% from 2019 (Mehmood, 2020).
Cultural and Social Changes
Migration can lead to cultural shifts and social changes in both rural and urban communities. Migrants often bring their cultural practices and traditions to the cities, contributing to the diversity of urban life. However, this can also lead to tensions and challenges as different cultural groups interact and integrate.
As people leave rural areas, the communities they leave behind may experience a decline in population and economic activity. This can have negative consequences for rural economies, agriculture, and overall community dynamics.
The migration of skilled and educated individuals from rural areas to cities can result in a “brain drain” effect. The loss of skilled workers can hamper rural development and limit the potential for growth in rural regions.
Remittances and Economic Impact
On the positive side, remittances sent back to rural areas by migrant workers can provide a significant source of income and contribute to local economic development. However, overdependence on remittances can also create vulnerabilities if the urban economy experiences fluctuations.
Urbanisation and the concentration of people in cities can lead to increased pollution and resource consumption, impacting the environment. Additionally, the expansion of urban areas can encroach upon nearby agricultural lands and natural habitats.
Family and Social Dynamics
Migration can have complex effects on family and social dynamics. While it may improve the economic situation for migrants and their families, it can also lead to social disconnection and challenges in maintaining traditional family structures and support systems.
Urban Poverty and Inequality
Rural-urban migration can contribute to urban poverty and income inequality. While some migrants may find success in urban areas, others may struggle to secure stable employment and adequate living conditions, leading to pockets of poverty and disparity within cities.
What are the Solutions?
Rural Development and Diversification
Investing in rural development is crucial to provide attractive opportunities within rural areas. Diversifying local economies, promoting entrepreneurship, and supporting agriculture can create sustainable livelihoods, reducing the need for migration.
Strengthening Rural Infrastructure and Services
Improving rural infrastructure, including road networks, schools, healthcare centers, and access to clean water, can enhance living conditions and make rural areas more appealing for residents to stay.
Job Creation in Small and Medium-sized Towns
Promoting job creation in small and medium-sized towns can act as a counter-magnet to large cities. Encouraging industries to set up in these areas can help distribute economic opportunities more evenly.
Affordable Housing Initiatives
Governments and organizations can develop affordable housing projects to accommodate urban migrants and alleviate the housing crisis. These initiatives should focus on providing safe and decent housing options for low-income families.
Urban Planning and Management
Implementing effective urban planning and management strategies can help cities accommodate the growing population and optimize the use of resources. This includes sustainable land-use planning, improved public transportation, and waste management systems.
Skills Training and Education
Providing skill development and vocational training programs in rural areas can equip individuals with the necessary skills to find employment locally, reducing the need to migrate for work.
Social Support Networks
Establishing social support networks for migrants in urban areas can facilitate their integration into new communities. These networks can provide access to information, resources, and emotional support to help migrants adapt to urban life.
Rural-urban migration is a complex issue with far-reaching implications for both rural and urban regions. While migration can provide individuals with new opportunities and improved living standards, it also poses significant challenges to urban centers, such as overcrowding and strained resources. Addressing rural-urban migration requires a multi-faceted approach, involving investments in rural development and effective urban planning. By finding a balance between promoting sustainable rural development and managing urban growth, societies can work towards creating more equitable and prosperous communities for all.
This article is written by Haneen Gul. Haneen is a research analyst at the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies (IIPS).