While 80 per cent of the UK population lives in urban areas, most of the rapid transition from rural to urban living occurred during the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. In other parts of the world, particularly Asia, urbanisation is currently occurring at a rapid pace. The World Health Organisation states that as of 2010 more than half of the global population lives in urban areas, a figure that will rise to 7 out of every 10 by 2050. This rapid urbanisation can have certain negative effects on the people and the environment.
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Pressure on services
Rapid urbanisation puts a great deal of pressure on the city's ability to provide services and utilities. The city’s provision of facilities such as power, water, sanitation, rubbish disposal, transportation, health care and education come under pressure from sheer density of users and the fact that these services must be funded from the public purse. Because rapid urbanisation tends to increase urban poverty -- and those in poverty are unable to pay taxes to fund public services -- the disparity between demand and ability to supply becomes stretched.
The materials used to construct urban areas and the density of population make them vulnerable to natural disasters. An earthquake in an urban area is likely to have a greater destructive impact on the environment and loss of human life than a similar occurrence in a rural area. The planning and construction of urban architecture that can withstand natural phenomena is important, but more expensive than conventional construction.
As more and more people move to cities, more and more rural land is sequestered for urban building, of houses, roads and other infrastructure. This has two effects. It decreases the available land for rural dwelling, causing more people to migrate to the city. It also puts pressure on the rural land to produce sufficient food to feed the country's population. This pressure can cause food prices to rise; urban dwellers buy a greater proportion of their food than rural inhabitants, meaning that they are hardest hit by this price increase.
While urbanisation can have positive effects on people’s life chances -- giving access to higher-paying employment sectors, access top education -- it also exacerbates poverty levels. Cities often do not have enough well-paying jobs to support the ever-growing population. The disparity between wealth and poverty tends to be greater in cities than in rural areas.
The density of population in rapidly urbanising areas increases pollution levels. Waste levels rise as urban dwellers buy more packaged food, traffic density rises, increasing levels of greenhouse gases, while pressure on services such as sewerage provision can mean urban areas suffer organic pollution as well.
A 2013 study by the Energy and Resources Institute found that temperatures in Delhi and Mumbai -- India's largest cities -- had increased by up to 3 degrees Celsius over just 15 years. This is due largely to rapid urbanisation. Urban building materials absorb heat, density of traffic adds pollutants that heat the atmosphere and air conditioning to combat the effect further exacerbates the problem by emitting pollutants.
As urban areas increase in size, natural environments are sequestered for building upon. This means destruction of wetlands, forests and other wilderness areas, affecting wildlife populations and behaviours, as well as access to wilderness areas for the urban population.
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- BBC: A history of urbanisation in Britain
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- World Health Organization: Urban population growth