Sample Essay On Urbanisation AND Its Environmental Effects
Increase in the global world population certainly comes with the consequence of increased pressure on the earth’s natural resources. Urbanisation specifically plays a major role in environmental degradation as humans expand their settlement areas and exploit the earth’s natural resources. In order to be more specific, this discussion will use urbanisation in India as a prototype of how urbanisation can result in environmental degradation and will also on the other hand address ways through which urbanisation may contribute to more sustainable utilization of limited natural resources.
Studies have shown that from the year 1901 to 2001, the urban population in India has increased from 26 million up to 285 million, which is an increase of more than ten times (Sandhu, 2003, p.19). The total population of the country has also increased drastically from 238 million to a staggering 1027 million within the same time frame (19).
(Maiti, and Agrawal, 2005)
In 1901, India had only one city (Kolkata) with a population of more than one million people. Mumbai made it two in 1911 and this remained constant from 1911 to 1941 (Maiti, and Agrawal, 2005). By 1951, cities with a population of one million and above had increased to five. They continued to increase until they were 23 in 1991 and were 35 during the 2001 census (Maiti, and Agrawal, 2005). The total population in cities with a population of one million and above people rose from 1.51 million to 107.88 million from the year 1901 to 2001, an increase of about fifty fold (Maiti, and Agrawal, 2005).
One of the environmental degradation impacts of this urban population explosion is air pollution by a huge number of motor vehicles in the Metropolitan cities of India. The country has seen an increase of about three-fold in the number motor-vehicles from the year 1990 to 2000, most of them being in cities (Uttara, 2015). During the aforementioned duration, the number of motor vehicles increased from 19,152 to 53,100 (Uttara, 2015). The annual increase in the number of motor vehicles is estimated at 10%, causing major concerns about air pollution. Poor vehicle maintenance as well as traffic congestion in these urban areas in fact exacerbate the problem of air pollution. Most vehicles in the country also do not comply with permissible emission limits.
The other way through which urbanisation may cause air pollution is through increasing the suspended particulate matter (SPM). The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in India conducted a survey of ten cities of India and discovered a significant increase in the amount of SPM in the air which denoted dust and particles of carbon coated with poisonous gases (Singh, 2005, 4). Delhi and Kolkata were reported to have the have the highest SPM level, reaching up to 460 (Singh, 2005, 4). Incomplete combustion of fuel in two and three-wheeled motor vehicles, which have indirect fuel injection and ineffective two-stroke cycle engines, was attributed to the elevated level of air pollution. Air pollution by such engines is through the release of emissions like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, suphur oxide, and lead which have detrimental effects on the environment and on health. The study also revealed that SPM has reached a critical level in residential areas of all the industrial cities of the country (Singh, 2005, 4).
Figure 2: A Cold, smoggy day during winter in New Delhi; the grey haze clearly indicates the high level of air pollution in the city. A great traffic jam which is a major source of greenhouse gases can also be seen. (Buckley, 2012, p.46)
Another way through which urbanisation, such as the one witnessed in India, may lead to environmental degradation is through wastewater generation. Water resources are falling in urban areas, not just because of consumption by huge populations, but also due to wasteful consumption as well as poor conservation. Rapid urbanisation like the one occurring in India leads to production of high amounts of wastewater, some of which is channeled into rivers. Table 1 below shows the wastewater volume that is produced from distinct industrial and domestic sources, the amount collected, and the volume that is treated prior to disposal, in four major cities of India. Mld means millions of litres per day.
There is no city in India which has facilities that can collect 100% of the sewage, treat it, and dispose the waste. Patna (Bihar State’s capital) of all the capital cities of India’s states is known to be the worst when it comes to handling of sewage (Singh, 2005, 4). The untreated as well as the partially treated water eventually leads to contamination of rivers, reservoirs, and lakes causing many problems of pollution. Rivers that pass through cities like Krishna, Narmada, Ganga, and Hoogly are known to be highly polluted. Urbanisation has also been identified as a major contributor to the high level of solid waste like polyethylene bags in the cities of India (Singh, 2005, 4).
During the process of urbanisation soil and natural vegetation are disturbed and replaced with materials like concrete, brick and asphalt among other impermeable materials. This reduces the chances of water being absorbed by the ground increasing the chances of flooding. This has been seen in cities like Mumbai. Additionally, the runoff, which most often has pollutants, runs into rivers causing further water pollution.
Figure 3: Flooding in Mumbai’s streets after heavy rain
(Bobb, Bhupta, and Aiyar, 2005)
Noise pollution is another form of environmental degradation that is known to affect most cities globally, and India’s cities are no exception. A 1997 study showed that Kolkata had the highest level of noise pollution among India’s metropolitan cities. All cities of India are in fact known to have a serious noise pollution problem. Noise is a hazard that affects humans psychologically, socially, and physically (Singh, 2005, 4). Prolonged loud of noise can cause a person to permanently lose a level of their hearing ability. It can also cause stress as well as other forms psychological suffering.
Although urbanization is a major contributor to environmental degradation, some experts have pointed out that it may in fact help to ensure sustainable use of limited natural resources. Firstly, urbanisation leads to greater productivity because it enables economies of scale and facilitates positive externalities (Batabyal, A. 2013). For instance, urban areas in Asia are about 5.5 times more productive than rural areas (Wan, 2012). Urban agglomeration allows that kind of output using fewer resources than would otherwise occur. With this regard, urbanization may be said to play a role in lessening the ecological footprint.
Secondly, compactness of urban areas allows more conservative energy use (Wan, 2012). This is because the length of trips is shorter within urban areas, reducing fuel use as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the urban lifestyle encourages cycling and walking instead of driving.
Thirdly, environmentally-beneficial public infrastructure and services like piped water and sanitation are easier to establish, operate, and maintain in urban areas. These environmental-friendly services and facilities are also made more affordable due to urbanization (Batabyal, A. 2013). This is because their distribution and installation in scattered rural residences would be more expensive.
Lastly, most innovations are made in urban areas. Green technology projects in regions like Asia are usually in urban areas and will lead to a more sustainable environment (Wan, 2012). Through innovations like electric motor vehicles and other environmental-friendly machines, the environment will be better conserved, all credit to the innovation based in urban areas.
In conclusion, urbanization contributes greatly to environmental pollution especially when growth of the urban population occurs in a drastic manner. From the examples of India’s major cities, environmental degradation is actually occurring through air, water, noise, and land (solid waste) pollution. It is therefore imperative that such urban areas take measures to control environmental degradation if their residents are to have a sustainable environment and a better quality of life. Measures like control of population growth, procurement of adequate waste water management facilities, and adoption of incentives to ensure that the public complies with environmental conservation policies can go a long way to ensure that urbanization does not lead to environmental degradation. On the other hand, urbanization can also lead to sustainable use of the limited natural resources through agglomeration of the population, conservative use of energy, easier provision of services and infrastructure, and through environmental friendly innovations.
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