Rural-urban migration strategies in the Third World

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Third World population growth rates have been at the forefront of Third World population policy for many years, alarming local, national and international governments about the consequences of such growth. However, the more recent trend towards rapid urbanisation in developing countries across the world now seems to be a more significant and pressing issue in our contemporary times. During the course of this essay I will concentrate on the influence of internal migration on the rapid urbanisation of the Third World.

I aim to identify and explain the main migration strategies that underlie such internal migration patterns, outlining relevant theories, models and perspectives. I will also outline the benefits and consequences of such population movements on both an aggregate and individual level. I will then examine the governmental response and policy implications of the urban phenomenon of the Third World, assessing the relative successes and/or failures of these actions, before investigating the criticism that these governments have come under in recent times.

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One of the most significant of all postwar demographic phenomena and the one that promises to loom even larger in the future is the rapid growth of cities in developing countries. ‘ (Todaro, 1990; 263). Todaro’s argument here is underlined by Figure 1, below. This graph illustrates the ‘Estimated and Projected World Urban and Rural Population’ from 1950-2030, clearly showing the changing demographics of the world, with the urban population projected to overtake the rural population. According to United Nations Population Division (2000; 128) within 5 years, half of the world’s population will live in cities.

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By 2030 the urban population will reach 4. 9 billion (60% of the world’s population). Nearly all population growth will be in the cities of developing countries, whose population will double to nearly 4 billion by 2030-about the size of the developing world’s total population in 1990. (UNPD, 2000). Figure 1 To understand the underlying causes of 3rd world urbanisation, one must examine the impact of the global economy on third world cities, and particularly, the expansion of the world capitalist system into the third world.

The emergence of the ‘New International Division of Labour’, where capitalist countries of the West shift their production units to the Third World cities to take advantage of reduced production costs, allowed Third World countries to expand their economies rapidly. However, the impact was highly selective as these Western countries tended to invest in just a few cities of the Third World, usually those major cities that have already invested in the necessary infrastructure to accommodate such large-scale modern activity.

In these parts, relatively speaking living conditions were greatly improved, providing citizens with enhanced social and economic opportunity. However, this concentrated investment often leads to the emergence of urban primacy, where one single city dominates the entire country. This arguably reduces growth prospects in other parts of the country, and certainly encourages increased migration into the primate city. Another important aspect of the incorporation of Third World cities into the world economic system, in relation to internal migration, is that it introduced differentiation in rural societies.

Previously these societies had been based on egalitarian values, however as development in the cities progressed, the rural dwellers began to realize their relative poverty, in terms of personal income, duration of employment and collective consumption of services, as compared to their urban counterparts. The fact that the vast majority of urbanites still live in very desperate conditions gives much insight into the squalor and poverty of life in the Third World. To illustrate, in ‘Cities at the Forefront’ article, the author tells of Marina Lupina, who lives in a shack built from discarded waste next to a refuse-clogged canal.

Despite her poverty, she believes that she and her children have more opportunity in the city than if they had remained in the countryside’. With such perceived benefits of city life, however, the attraction and magnitude of urban migration is greatly enhanced. The decision to migrate is pre-dominantly an economic process and a ‘consequence of a collective decision involving immediate and extended family members’ (Drakakis-Smith, 1992; 32). The disparities between rural and urban life have prompted many economic geographers to attempt to model these processes.

Many models have been presented over the years, however the most accurate model comes from Brown (1991). This model, based on dissatisfaction with previous models, incorporates a structural scale with local scale. The model illustrates that the conditions that influence migration are development dependent, changing over time according to the level of development. For example, the level of development influences the level of technology, infrastructure, social and economic opportunities and government policy. These in turn affect the rate and pattern of migration.

In more developed areas, job opportunities and wage rates are important, while in less developed areas, migration chains and information are more important. This historical-structural model shows the complexity of migration, where the forces underlying migration strategies vary between countries, depend on level of development and vary within countries over time. There are four main migration strategies identifiable in the Third World. Firstly, there is Circular Migration, where the migrant, predominantly male, would travel to the city to seek employment on a short-term basis, usually a few months at a time.

The male migrant would leave his wife and family in the rural village, in attempt to seize the best of both worlds, by reducing the expensive cost of housing his whole family in the city, whilst retaining his rural land revenue and/or food source. Owing to the limited female job opportunities in the cities and the fact that forfeiting rural land is uncompensated, at this stage it would be economically more beneficial for the family to stay behind in the rural area. Capitalist employers in the Third World cities supported this type of migration as it saves them money in wages and fringe benefits that would be required for families.

Public Authorities also benefit as this lone-migration results in less of a demand for public housing and associated infrastructure. However, in many developing countries the supply of labour far exceeds the demand, meaning that the quest for urban employment may be time-consuming, and without guarantee. Therefore, if a migrant does find regular employment in this ‘urban lottery’ (Wahba, 1996), then he has good reason to hold on to it (Pacione, 2001). This is one possible reason for the next phase of migration- Long-term Migration.

This strategy involves the migrant leaving behind his family for extended periods, with short and infrequent visits to his rural village, depending on the distance and employment conditions. This type of migration becomes more common as the employment prospects become more stable. Economically, long-term migration is a stronger option, as the migrant enjoys the benefits of a regular, inflated income with longer-term employment. However, regular visits to the rural area are reduced as the migrant has to get permitted leave if he wants to return to his job.

This type of migration has become less socially acceptable as it puts increasing strain on the relationships between the migrants and their families. As this separation becomes too strenuous, the families often make the journey to visit the city instead. Due to the educational opportunities in the city, children also often stay in the city with their father on a more permanent basis. These can be seen to contribute to the next phase of migration; family and return migration.

In some rural areas, for example in parts of Tropical Africa, the breakdown of communally controlled land means that potential migrants are increasingly able to sell their land as they move on (Pacione, 2001). With the development of capitalist modes of production, urban factory units provide new opportunity for female employment in the city. In some cases, the migrant may be earning sufficient wages in the city to cancel out the significance of rural income. This incidence along with the reasons outlined above, strengthens the likelihood of family migration.

Although family migration is a long-term process, it is often followed by return migration to the rural area of origin. Often, the strong social bond to the rural area and members of the extended family encourage migrant families back into their home village. Apart from their social ties, economic reasons for return migration also prevail. The absence of economic pensions and unemployment benefits in the city enhances the appeal of the relative social security and solidarity provided in the rural village, especially in retirement.

However, many migrants have no such plans to ever return to the rural area and therefore have different motives in the city. These permanent migrants are completely dependent on their urban income and put all of their hope and faith in the city. Permanent migrants tend to campaign for improved living conditions, employment conditions and improved economic and social security in the city. They strive for success in the city, tending to be those who set up their own businesses and own their own home.

As we have seen, migrants have different motives for migrating in different parts of the world, in different circumstances, at different times. The local context of migration is vitally important in wholly understanding rural-urban migration in the Third World. This can be related to Brown’s (1991) postulation that the underlying motives for migration, which affect which of the strategies is adopted, depend on the level of development in the area. There are four main identifiable policy approaches adopted by Third World governments in response to the rural-urban migration phenomenon.

These, as classified by Parnwell (1993), can either be Negative, Accommodative, Manipulative or Preventive of migration. Negative approaches tend to highlight governments’ unfavourable attitude towards urban migration, through the implementation of migration control policies. Such approaches have been based on administrative and legal controls on migration, for example registration and pass law systems. Here, people were registered with a certificate as either urban or rural residents, and the number of people who could be registered as urban citizens was restricted.

This approach aimed to curb the growth of urban migration, by acting as a constraint to the volume of people able to move to the city in search of work. These strategies have been largely successful in socialist Third World countries, such as China, where the registration system was reinforced through food rationing, available for those holding a valid urban certificate, and rustication programmes, where large numbers are deported from the city and relocated in the rural area.

Outwith the powers of socialism, however, these approaches have been less successful. In the absence of drachonian legal enforcement, ‘such systems have been abject failures, spawning corruption or simply being ignored by people’ (Drakakis-Smith, 1992; 38). The problems facing migration control policies lie in the difficulty of enforcing such controls. Registration documents can easily be forged, evictees can easily return to the city, and the expense of monitoring the controls is high.

There are also ethical, human rights questions to be associated with such forced migration controls. The personal freedoms of Third World populations are taken away from them, resulting in personal grief and resentment. UNFPA recommends that governments devise policies whilst ‘respecting the right of individuals to live and work in the community of their choice’ (UNFPA, 1999). This type of approach delivers a superficial, temporary and unfruitful solution to the problem of rapid urban migration, as it fails to address the underlying causes of the phenomenon.

Accommodative approaches, in contrast to Negative approaches, accept the inevitability of migration and appreciate the migrants’ need and personal rights to move to the city. In response, many governments have sought to improve basic conditions in the Third World city by upgrading slums and introducing policies that improve social welfare and ameliorate squatter settlements. However, the sheer scale of escalating urban squalor and the limited resources of most cities mean that these actions affect only the small minority.

They have also attempted to find a solution for the urban unemployment problem by creating more urban modern-sector jobs, urban training schemes and introducing minimum wage legislation. However, the majority of urbanites work within the informal sector and therefore government legislation policies will not benefit most. Todaro also points out that urban job creation is an insufficient solution, unless accompanied by rural income and employment opportunity improvements, as it ‘can result in the paradoxical situation where more urban employment leads to higher levels of urban unemployment’ (Todaro, 1990; 282).

If new employment opportunities are created more migrants are encouraged to respond, as the perception of opportunity is heightened. Since the actual number of jobs created is significantly less than the perceived number of jobs, the consequence is further urban unemployment. Moreover, each of these policies can result in increased migration as the perception of city life is further enhanced by such improvements. These accommodative approaches have also come under fire as they address the symptoms, rather than the causes, of rural-urban migration.

Manipulative approaches, which accept migration from rural areas as inexorable, but attempt to deflect migrants away from large cities to other reception areas, have been ‘slightly more successful’ (Drakakis-Smith, 1992; 38). The continued concentration of population in primate cities, fostered by the concentration of public and private resources in some cities, poses specific economic, social and environmental challenges for governments. Yet primate cities also represent the most dynamic centres of economic and cultural activity in many countries.

It is therefore essential that the specific problems of large cities be analysed and addressed, in full awareness of the positive contribution that large cities make to national economic and social development (UNFPA, 1999). The main approach here is to try to shed the preponderance of primate cities by stimulating the economies of secondary cities in peripheral regions. This is an attempt to generate more equitable growth, by providing migrants with employment opportunities out with the magnetic, over-populated primate cities.

Tax incentives, infrastructure provision and decentralization of urban, industrial and administrative functions have been central to the process. While these programmes have been met with success in some countries, they have been generally ineffective (Pacione, 2001). This can be attributed to the reluctance of companies to compromise the amenities and infrastructure provided by the city, which are required for economic development. Although there are incentives for industrial relocation, these tend to be limited and unenticing, as governments simply cannot afford them.

Policy conflict also arises from decentralization strategies. According to some researchers and politicians, primate cities are essential to national economic development, providing the necessary environment to promote such growth. Others, however, believe that primate cities retard development, as the concentration of government investment in primate cities reduces the growth prospects of other parts of the country, thus encouraging concentrated migration and urban primacy.

Other critics argue that secondary cities act as an intermediate stage in the migration process, where they establish a feel for urban life before moving on to the primate city. As governments acknowledge the structural difficulties in establishing secondary cities as attractive migration opportunities, many have responded by setting up satellite towns around the main primate cities. However, many of these projects resulted in extended development of the primate city, as the direction of growth was towards the primate city.

UNFPA recommends that descaling the level of governance is essential in promoting a spatially balanced level of development, involving ‘giving responsibility for expenditure and the right to raise revenue to regional, district and local authorities’ (UNFPA, 1999). Although Manipulative strategies have had some success, overall, the policies discussed here have only managed to in-directly address the underlying causes of rural-urban migration (Pacione, 2001). The most appropriate responses to rural-urban migration ‘must be those that directly address poverty and underdevelopment in the countryside itself’ (Drakakis-Smith, 1992; 38).

Preventive approaches, based on this idea, attempt to address the underlying causes of migration, both at the source and the destination of migrants. The main focus of the approach is to minimize migratory push factors through the transformation of the rural economy. These approaches aim to reduce urban bias and stimulate rural development through various policies such as rural land reform, agricultural intensification, increased investment in rural infrastructure and industry, and improved employment conditions, including more opportunities and minimum wage legislation.

Todaro (1990; 284), from an economist stance, believes that creating a rural-urban economic balance is ‘indispensable to ameliorating rural-urban migration’. He suggests that governments should; promote the integrated development of rural sector, focusing on income generation, employment growth, health delivery, education and infrastructure improvements; spread of small-scale industries throughout the countryside, using labour-intensive modes of production; and reorientation of economic activity and social investments towards rural areas.

UNFPA also recommend such action as the best way forward; ‘Governments wishing to create alternatives to out-migration from rural areas should establish the preconditions for development in rural areas,… make and encourage investments to enhance rural productivity,… encourage the redistribution and relocation of industries,… encourage the establishment of new businesses, industrial units and income- generating projects in rural areas,… and improve rural infrastructure and social services’ (UNFPA, 1999).

Rural industrialization programmes have had varied success. In Thailand, for example, the modernization of cottage industries has significantly reduced out-migration. However, in India, such industrialization has paradoxically resulted in increased rural-urban migration, where the migrants are encouraged to move to the city, as their newly-found skills increase their urban employment prospects. UNFPA also believe governments should implement policies that ‘give people greater control over resources and improve their livelihoods’.

Although land reform policies, where land is redistributed to the poor, may raise agricultural income, most Third World governments lack the political structure to implement them successfully. As well as a restoration of a proper balance between rural and urban incomes, Todaro (1990; 283) also calls for changes in government policies that ‘give development programmes a strong bias towards the urban sector, such as policies in the provision of healthcare, education and social services’.

These welfare policies have also been quite successful, for example in Sri Lanka urban migration was reduced by the introduction of rural social welfare packages including free healthcare, income support and housing improvements (Pacione, 2001). As we have seen, successful approaches to mitigating excessive rural-urban migration must be adapted to the specific socio-economic needs of particular countries and regions. As we have seen, rapid urban expansion in the Third World is of major concern to governments around the globe.

We have also seen how rural-urban migration has contributed to this problem. Although migration is primarily an economic-based decision, it remains that different people move for different reasons, in different parts of the world, at different times. The four main types of migration strategy reflect this point. In response, governments have adopted four main approaches in attempting to reduce the impact of excessive rural-urban migration.

While each approach has had success in specific countries, where financial and political resources allow successful implementation, none provide a universal solution to the problem. The most effective policies, preventive policies, adopt a grass-roots approach, dealing with the push-factors of migration in the source area. However, migration is a very complex process, as demonstrated by Brown’s (1991) ‘development paradigm of migration’. Policy makers must therefore remember that the forces underlying migration vary over time and space and must parallel such dynamics.

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Rural-urban migration strategies in the Third World. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Rural-urban migration strategies in the Third World
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