Environmental problems arise from the urban by-products of transport, industrial activities, and the overcrowding of human habitation. Economic policies have encouraged mass migration of labor to urban industries. The shift from rural to urban Asia will accelerate in the coming century, aggravating urban crowding and increasing the risk of social and political conflict. Asia’s urban profile increased from 27% (0.7B people) in 1980 to 38% (1.4B) in 2000 and will rise to 50% (2.3B) in 2020.
To date, governments have stimulated urban migration by maintaining low food costs, which reduce rural incomes and increase the flight to the cities. About a third of the people in the Third World’s cities live in desperately overcrowded slums and squatter settlements, with many people unemployed, uneducated, undernourished and chronically ill. Conditions will worsen as their numbers swell and transport, communication, health and sanitation systems break down. One solution to urban excesses is to divert industry and its induced labor migration away from the mega cities towards surrounding areas. This requires significant infrastructure investment, however, and establishes competing centers of political power.