Urbanisation and its effects

By Ghanaian Chronicle

3/31/2011 8:02:12 PM -

WARREN (2003) defined urbanisation as the movement of people from communities concerned chiefly or solely with agriculture, to other communities generally larger, whose activities are primarily centered in government, trade, manufacture, or allied interests.

It is also seen as the movement of populations from rural to urban areas, and the resulting increasing proportion of a population that resides in urban, rather than rural areas. This phenomenon of urbanisation has greatly caught up with the world, Ghana inclusive, and it comes with its own set of problems that have become a burden on central government and policy makers who are at a loss as to how to tackle it.

urban drift in Ghana
The unbridled rural to urban drift in Ghana started in the mid-1980s, following the breakdown of the agriculture sector. The aim of this paper would be to attempt to argue some problems of this canker on development which has brought nothing good, but rather, become an albatross around the neck of the policy makers.

An attempt would also be made to offer what could be solutions to minimising, if not eradicating it.

There is no doubt that the rapid and alarming urbanisation we are experiencing has adverse effects on our quest for development, and if not checked in the shortest possible time, this would definitely spell further problems, seeing that Ghana, as a country, is still far behind in terms of development, as compared to other countries in North Africa, and in the southern parts of the continent.

It must be kept in mind that urbanisation is a two way process, because it involves not only movement from villages to cities, and changes from agricultural occupation to business, trade, services and other professions, but also changes in migrant attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviour patterns, which then affect traditional values.

On one very critical effect of urbanisation in Ghana, Baabereyir has found out that unsustainable urbanisation has resulted in poor environmental conditions in urban settlements in the country.

“Solid waste disposal, in particular, has become a daunting task for the municipal authorities, who seem to lack the capacity to tackle the mounting waste situation.”

It is common knowledge that a high concentration of people in one particular area would generate waste, especially, plastic waste, in our case.

Major cities such as Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Takoradi among others, can best be termed as dirty cities, due to what has been acknowledged as the 'mounting waste situation,” and the fact that the municipal authorities are finding it difficult to contain it.

The four cities mentioned above have become the preferred point of call by people desiring to leave their villages in search of “greener pastures” due to the high concentration of industries and other so called job avenues. Unfortunately, these metropolises have not prepared themselves for the large influx of these menial job seekers.

When the search for “greener pastures” eludes migrants to the city centers, the situation then leads to another problem of urbanisation.

Rowntree, Lewiss, Price, and Wyckoff report that crime is a major problem for Lagos, in Nigeria, and this goes for other cities including Accra and others in Ghana, due to the large influx of people whose ambitions of finding jobs have been dashed, and without any form of education or skills are tempted to fall on crime to survive.

Weinberg also notes the “disproportionate age concentration, an uneven male-female ratio, and the diminution of traditional kingship controls of contemporary urban life.

The male delinquency which occurs as a consequence of these factors, in both the central and the adjacent villages, is also affected by the urban gangs that roam the villages periodically, to steal and to recruit members.”

law enforcement
The sum effect of this is that law enforcement is ultimately over-stretched, since the police and other security agencies have to try hard to fight crime, depending on limited resources. Our prisons also get choked with able bodied young men, who could otherwise, be engaged in profitable ventures back at their places of origin.

Another effect of urbanisation is the lack of shelter to cater for the large number of people in the city centers. It is estimated that only 8% of the population in Ghana can afford to buy properties without mortgage, and only 15% can access mortgages.

The country also has a housing deficit that goes beyond one million, and this is greatly felt in the cities and other bigger towns.

The consequence of this is that people who have migrated into the cities resort to sleeping on bare floors in front of stores in the main business districts.

The dangers involved in this are that womenfolk who sleep at such places become prey to unscrupulous men who steal from them, and even rape them.

The most “ingenious” of these migrants put up wooden structures at unapproved places, which then leads to slums such as the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah in Accra.

Premarital and unprotected sexual encounters are very rampant among people living in the slums, which leads to unwanted pregnancies.

Children born of these relationships do not receive proper care, and grow up lacking education and any skills.

The effect of this is that the cycle of poverty and illiteracy is perpetuated.

Services such as education, health care, electricity, water and sewerage, and traffic, are severely over-stretched as a result urbanisation. According to Rowntree et al (2003) “city officials struggle to build enough roads and provide electricity, water, sewerage services and employment for all of these people.”

The upcountry areas are known to be the agricultural bases of this country, where most of the food produce are cultivated. Even cash crops such as cocoa and shea butter are cultivated in the villages.

If then, the people in these areas move to the urban centers, the question that would beg for answer is who would remain to feed the nation?

Obviously, our agricultural base stands to suffer greatly, and as a matter of fact, this has already started, and it is high time the nation took tangible actions to stop this problem from further spreading.

agriculture sector
The irony of the situation is that the agriculture sector has the capacity to employ the energetic youth who abandon their villages where the employment is, and rather troop to Accra and other places in search of non-existent jobs.

Urbanisation has caused human values to take back seat in every situation, and it has turned human beings into hostile elements, with its problem of unemployment widening the already existing gap between the rich and the poor, with social inequalities now reality in our nation.

It is clear from the forgoing that to put Ghana on a sound developmental pedestal, the problem or urbanisation must be first tackled, and this would have to be done outside the cities first.

To conclude this piece, this writer would want to suggest that in tackling this problem, it is important that the concept of rural development is revived, as it was the case in the few years after independence, when governments of the first and second republics directed attention towards making the interior parts of Ghana attractive.

Facilities such as education, health care and social welfare are the reasons people are migrating to the urban centers, so why don't we take these to the rural areas to halt the unbridled human movement.

The agriculture sector has the potential to employ a lot of people, as it currently does, so let us make it attractive, and people would stay in their towns and villages, and not be worried about Accra and other cities.

A word to the wise, they say, is enough, and the time to act is definitely now.

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