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Urban Areas: Population, Land Use and Health

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Urban Areas


  • Arun Persaud


  • Discuss land use, population, health and sanitation in urban areas.


According to Ramsawak and Umraw (2001), “all the people residing within a specific geographic area, for example, within a nation, a geographic region, a state, or a city is called its population”. The population density of an area can be defined as the number of people living in a particular area of land at a particular time. Population density can be influenced by a variety of factors which include physical factors such as relief or height of land, climatic and natural vegetation, influence of agriculture, industrial influence and also urban influence (Ramsawak and Umraw, 2001).

An urban area is an area that has a dense population of people and has a density of structures such as roads, railways, housing and commercial buildings. The area usual functions as a marketing town, commercial hub, administration, manufacturing and industrial sites and also tourism. Examples of urban areas include cities, towns and suburbs.

Urbanization is the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas. This results in negative impacts for both areas. The rural area often suffers from brain-drain while a lot of physical pressure is placed on the receiving urban area. The urban area usually becomes overcrowded and there is a shortage of housing and other facilities. There is also usually a rise in pollution level and low level of sanitation (Ramsawak and Umraw, 2001).

Sanitation is simply the provision of facilities and services to get rid of waste products such as sewage and garbage. This is very important because it promotes a healthy environment and also protects the population from any health threats which may be connected to exposure to these wastes.

Land use in urban areas

Land use can be defined as the use of land by human. This involves the management of land and also the modification of land into built environment so as to meet the need of the present population or the population which will utilize the land (Dickinson and Shaw, 1977). The effects of land use may include deforestation, soil erosion, soil degradation, salinization and urban sprawl. Urban sprawl can be defined as the expansion of the urban area population into area that was once classified as rural area. There are six major types of land uses in urban areas. These include:-

  • Residential land use- The use of land for people to live. This usually makes up about 40% of an urban area. The type of housing in an area is based on the residential density which is the number of houses per hectare. Residential density may be low density (thirty units per hectare), medium density (thirty to a hundred units per hectare) or high density (exceeds a hundred units per hectare).
  • Transportation land use- Land which is used for transporting people and goods from one place to another. This is influenced by the amount of people residing in the urban settlement, the more people the more vehicles the road infrastructure has to support and the more parking spaces will be needed. Transportation land usually makes up about 32% of the urban area. Transportation land includes land spaces which are utilized for roads, subways, railroad tracks and airports.
  • Commercial land use- Commercial areas in an urban settlement can take up about 5% of the land. These commercial areas are used business activities such as restaurants, shopping malls and service stations which are very important in maintaining a healthy economy in the community.
  • Industrial land use- Industrial land spaces within urban areas usually take up about 6% of the urban land and are usually found along railways or water ways. Industrial land use is the use of land for the establishment of industries factories such as power plants.
  • Institutional land use- Land which is used for schools, hospitals, government offices, churches and other places of religious offering. Institutional land uses usually take up about 10% of an urban area land.
  • Recreational land use- Land which is used for leisure activities example playgrounds and parks.


Urban areas are usually very densely populated. This is so because of a variety of reasons which may include rural migration and over-population, industrialization, natural increase, lack of public and social services in rural areas and commercial sector.

Rural migration is the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas. This is resulted from persons chasing after an improvement of their standard of living through employment and a better life, which may be available in urban areas. Over-population causes pressure on the land and this encourages persons to migrate to urban areas. A continuing movement of persons will eventually lead to rural depopulation and a gradual increase in urban population.

There are a few industries and employment opportunities in rural area so people from here usually go seek jobs in urban areas where they could earn a livelihood. Increasing industrialization in urban areas attracts new rural migrants. Industrialization creates job opportunities. The transfer of such large numbers of people is partly as a result of the concentration of economic activities is in the urban areas.

Natural increase occurs when the crude birth rate is more than the crude death rate. This simply means when there are a greater number of births over deaths in a given population

The lack of basic public and social services in rural areas result in migration to urban areas where facilities such as adequate schools, transportation facilities, health facilities and telephone services are made available to the population. Even the roads in the rural areas are in poor conditions and farming areas are often inaccessible, hence the quality services in the urban areas attract the rural population.

An urban area can be classified as the commercial sector in that large amount of whole sale and retail activities are undertaken here. The central business district (C.B.D) provides varied commercialized services and rural migrants are attracted to the urban areas because of these services. There is a greater opportunity for them to gain employment and also some may become involved in street vending or even self-employed since there will be market available for their services which they can provide.

Urban areas face problems as a result of dense population. These include unemployment problem, traffic congestion, shortage of housing facilities and public services.

A high rate of unemployment still exists within urban areas even though there are industrial and commercial activities present. This is so because rural migrants keep moving to urban areas and also there is a natural growth of the urban population, hence there is a greater demand for jobs. The unavailability of jobs for the younger population especially can result in an increase crime rate. This heavy increase of population over time leads to a shortage of housing facilities since there is a greater demand of housing. Many persons cannot afford the high cost of living and facilities since they may not be gainfully employed or they are unemployed. This leads to the development of slums/ghettoes or shanty towns and also squatting becomes a large social problem (WHO, 2014). Squatting can be defined as occupying a piece of that that is abandoned or unoccupied. Squatters do not own or rent the land nor do they have any legal rights to use the land. A shanty town consists of houses which are poorly built from scavenged materials such as cardboard boxes, plywood, metal sheets and plastic sheets.

Traffic congestion is a major issue within urban areas. This is so because as the population grows the road infrastructures have to support more day-to-day traveling of people, goods and materials within the urban area and also in and out. Therefore, inadequate road networks and parking spaces for the dense population of urban areas result in daily traffic congestions.

There is a lack of public services and inadequate facilities such as educational and recreational facilities with an increased population. With an increased population, educational facilities are stretched to their limits and this result in a demand for more educational facilities and also educational improvements. The recreational facilities would have been established to be used by the past population but with a gradually increase of population these facilities may become inadequate.

There is also a lack of sanitary facilities due to urban population growth and pressure is placed on the existing facilities.

Health and Sanitation

With a rapid increase of urban population there is a lack of sanitation, a shortage of water supplies and also a lack of facilities for the disposal of the large amounts of garbage produced. This all leads to the pollution o the environment (Water supply and Collaborative Council, 2010). Pollution can be defined as the accumulation of any unwanted substance within the environment. Some causes of poor sanitation of urban areas include:-

  • Since urban areas are usually densely populated, there are a large amount of solid waste being produced and also waste water being produced. These solid waste materials are usually not collected regularly or there maybe restrictions on the amount of solid refuse which will be collected by authorities per household. This may lead to persons finding alternative ways to dispose refuse or a gradual buildup of refuse which results in an unaesthetic sight and an unhealthy environment. Waste water being produced is not usually being treated right or not being treated at all. When this water mixes with fresh water it contaminates it and makes it unhealthy to drink and even use for domestic purposes such as washing clothes or bathing (Water supply and Collaborative Council, 2010).
  • The leakage of sewers, waste and latrine contents result in the pollution of underground water. Underground water as the name suggests, is water that flows below the surface. It is also referred to as subsurface groundwater. Underground water is often used by dwellers of the slum population as a drinking source or for domestic uses such as bathing and washing. This could result in health threats (Water supply and Collaborative Council, 2010).
  • There is also a lack of Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) systems. This allows the buildup of sludge in poorly built pits which causes the sludge to mix with the underground water and illegal dumping of waste from private pit emptier in the sea/river. This causes health risks to the environment and all the components of it (Water supply and Collaborative Council, 2010).
  • Urban areas usually contain industries and factories which may result in pollution of the environment. This pollution can occur in the form of smoke into the atmosphere, waste water being drained out into the water ways and also solid waste materials maybe disposed poorly.

As seen above, there is a relationship and interconnection with sanitation and the health of the environment and all biotic life within it. In order to obtain or maintain a good sanitation level the waste and sanitation management has to keep up to pace with the growing population since the more people the more waste and physical pressure on the environment, services and facilities from them.

In urban areas there is a greater demand for social services such as health programs since a greater population has to be catered for. A densely populated region results in a low ratio of doctors and nurses to patients with in the health system. Therefore, there is an increase requirement of finance to to establish adequate health facilities with treatment and medication for all and also more money will be needed to employ new staffs and personnel to attend to these patients (Gabriel, 1989).


Ramsawak, R. and Umraw, R. (2001) Modules in Social Studies with SBA Guide & CXC Questions, Caribbean Educational Publishers.

Dickson, G.C. & Shaw. M.G (1977) What is ‘land use’?, //, 12th Aug 2014.

Dr. Sadik, N. (1996) State of the world population 1996: Changing Places: Population, Development and Urban Future, //, 12th Aug 2014.

Water supply and Collaborative Council. (2010) Sanitation/Urban Sanitation, //, 12th Aug 2014.

Unite For Sight (n.d.) Urban Versus Rural Health, //, 12th Aug 2014.

Gabriel, B. (1989) Access to Health Care in Urban Areas of Developing Societies, //, 13th Aug 2014.

Smart Development Stories. (n.d.) Urban Faecal Sludge Management Program, //, 12th Aug 2014.

Internet Geography. (n.d.) Population, //, 15th Aug 2014.

World Health Organization. (2014) Global Health Observatory, //, 15th Aug 2014.

Farooq, U. (2012) Characteristics of Rural and Urban Community, //, 14th Aug 2014.

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