In 2008, the world experienced one of the greatest numbers of deaths from natural disasters. Some of the contributing factors included extreme weather brought about by climate change, as well as urbanization in vulnerable areas. The urbanisation phenomenon is a feature that is being shared by all cultures across all continents on the globe, it not so much a result of higher birth rates in urban areas as it is of the continuous migration of people across regions as they are lured into urban areas for economic and social reasons.
As populations grow and urbanization increases, the capacity of communities decreases increasing the vulnerability of the communities to hazards or disasters. Events which in the past might have only impacted a small number of people may now become large-scale disaster affecting hundreds of people. Rapid urbanization thus becomes a major contributor to overcrowding, poverty and environmental degradation when the capacity of the community is insufficient to sustain a rapidly growing population.
Globally the growth of urban population has been astronomical. Approximately 60% of urban population growth worldwide is caused by natural increase, with migration accounting for only 25% of growth in Africa and 34% in Latin America. From 1985 to 2000 the world’s urban population has increased from approximately 80 million people to 2.9 billion (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). This is a major phenomenon observed in developing countries where there greater portion of the world’s urban population reside. During the second half of the 20th century, the world urban population seemed to have doubled every 25 years as it grew annually at a rate of over 2.7%. In comparison, the total population increased at an average annual rate of 1.76%, doubling every 39 years. The difference between those two rates of growth – the growth rate of the urban population minus the growth rate of the total population – is the actual rate of urbanization. Hence between 1950 and 2000, the world population urbanized rapidly, with the urban proportion increasing from 29% in 1950 to 47% in 2000 (Kleyn, 2010).
Overcrowding and Poverty
An obvious concern of urbanization is overcrowding and lack of housing. According to Davis-Mattis (2005), approximately two thirds of Jamaica’s population live in coastal towns and cities. Rapid urbanization has led to major such as traffic congestion resulting from poor infrastructure, contributing to environmental pollution and urban decay. Moreover, inadequate social services and poor housing are consequences of overpopulation and high population densities, often leading to the proliferation of squatters in major cities (Government of Jamaica, 2003). This scenario is often times intensified when high housing prices force people who are in the lower income strata away from the formal land market and towards illegal squatter settlements frequently situated in forbidden, environmentally sensitive areas; usually state-owned, yet seldom monitored. Only the small upper and middle classes in third world cities have the income, job security and credit worthiness to purchase or rent homes in properly surveyed, serviced or legally conveyance developments.
Compared to other urbanized lands, squatter settlements are mostly vulnerable to natural and anthropogenic hazards (Bernstein, 1994). Under the pressure of survival, poor people ignore essential environmental, technological and safety measures. Clarke (2006) describes an unsightly ‘rash of huts’ appearing along the flanks of the lower part of the Sandy Gully- one of the main drainage systems implemented in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (K.M.A.). Six persons perished in Sandy Park Jamaica after their house collapsed into the Sandy Gully (Spaulding 2010). This was one of three buildings on the gully bank to collapse after a section of the retaining wall broke away. According to authorities, people were warned not to live by the...
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