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close this bookFood and Nutrition Bulletin Volume 09, Number 4, 1987 (UNU Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 1987, 88 pages)
close this folderNutrition and urbanization
View the documentNutrition and urbanization: Introduction
View the documentHealth services and environmental factors in urban slums and shanty towns of the developing world
View the documentTrends in urban and rural food consumption and implications for food policies in Tunisia
View the documentNutrition-related health consequences of urbanization
View the documentUrbanization and hunger in the cities

Urbanization and hunger in the cities

Anwar M. Hussain and Paul Lunven

Urbanization is an inevitable consequence of socioeconomic development and industrialization. In developing countries it is proceeding at such a fast rate that it is outpacing the growth of services and employment. The result is teeming slums in city centres and shanty towns on their peripheries. Many of their inhabitants are compelled to live in a state of intense deprivation, and thus disproportionately bear the brunt of hunger and malnutrition in the cities.

Naturally, such unprecedented growth of urban populations has consequences for hunger and malnutrition. To put the issue into proper perspective, it is necessary to understand the magnitude of and trends in urbanization, as well as the characteristics of settlements themselves, and the direct and indirect effects of hunger on the persons who inhabit them. The greater the knowledge of these aspects, the more successfully vulnerable groups will be identified and measures and policies to combat urban hunger implemented.

Magnitude of and trends in urbanization

Developing countries constituted 75% of the world population in 1980. It is projected that they will be the source of all net additions to the world rural population and 84% of the net additions to the world urban population between 1980 and 2000. During this period it is likely that the urban population in developing countries will rise from about 31% of the total to 44% (table 1) [1]. Two of three urban residents and nine of ten rural residents of the world will be in the developing countries by 2000. This projected rate of urban growth is particularly striking be cause there is no historical precedent for the sheer numbers of people being added to the urban sectors in these countries [21.

Not only is the world becoming increasingly urbanized, but United Nations projections show that by 2000 a large part of the population will be concentrated in major urban centres of growth called "primate cities." By 1980 at least one in four of the population of Argentina, Iraq, Peru, Chile, Egypt, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, and Venezuela lived in a primate city. It is projected that by 2000 there will be 79 such cities in the world with populations greater than 4 million. Of these, 59 will be in the developing countries and will account for one-fourth of the population of these nations [1].

Large differences exist in the degree of urbanization in the various regions of the developing world, but these are likely to decrease by the year 2000. Some differences will persist, however, particularly between other regions and Latin America, which has almost reached the level of urbanization in developed countries. By the year 2000 three of four persons in Latin America and two of five in Asia and Africa will live in urban areas.

Characteristics of urban settlements in developing countries

Physical characteristics

In contrast to the planned cities of the developed countries, rapid growth of population in the developing world has overloaded the existing physical facilities in large cities [3]. The resultant pattern comprises four distinct physical parts:

-an old central area of the city, mostly decaying, with a heavy concentration of people and outdated services;
-a planned middle-class area with reasonably adequate services;
-a prosperous elite area with all modern amenities;
-a periurban area, unplanned, unserviced, and extremely densely populated (four to five times higher than the average in some cities for which statistics are available, e.g. Calcutta and Manila).

It is mainly the periurban areas and decaying city centres that attract most of the new migrants and become the geographical location of hunger in the cities.

TABLE 1. Projected urban and rural population growth by region, 1980-2000

  Population (millions)a Average annual
growth rate (%)
1980 2000
Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural
Africa 470 136 (29) 334(71) 853 362 (42) 491 (58) 3.0 5.0 1.9
East Asia 1,058 294 (28) 765 (72) 1,346 557 (41) 789 (59) 1.2 3.2 0.2
South Asia 1,404 348 (25) 1,056 (75) 2,075 770 (37) 1,305 (63) 2.0 4.1 1.1
Latin America 364 238 (65) 126(35) 566 428 (76) 138 (24) 2.2 3.0 0.5
All developing regionsb 3,301 1,016 (31) 2,285(69) 4,847 2,121(44) 2,725 (56) 1.9 3.7 0.9
All developed regions 1,131 806 (71) 325 (29) 1,272 1,011 (79) 262 (21) 0.6 1.1 -1.1
World 4,432 1,822 (41) 2,610 (59) 6,119 3,132 (51) 2,987 (49) 1.6 2.7 0.7

a. Figures in parentheses are percentages.
b. Includes Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

Source: Ref. 1