How Do the Scale and Intensity of Contemporary Impacts Compare With the Impacts of Early Agriculture and Urbanization?
For many economies, especially those of developing countries, agriculture can be an important engine—driving force—of economic growth. Approximately three‐quarters of the world's agricultural value added is generated in developing countries where agriculture constitutes the backbone of the economy. But not only in the developing countries but also in the developed countries agriculture has always been the precursor to the rise of industry and services.
Many urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa also have very high prevalence rates for HIV/AIDs; where there are large urban populations unable to get required treatments and a lack of programmes to protect those most at risk, these increase urban mortality rates significantly (van Donk 2006). But it is not urbanization that is the cause of such problems but the inadequacies in the response by governments and international agencies. In most nations, the pace of economic and urban change has outstripped the pace of needed social and political reform, especially at local government level. The consequences of this are evident in most cities in Asia and Africa and many in Latin America and the Caribbean—the high proportion of the population living in very poor and overcrowded conditions in informal settlements or tenements lacking adequate provision for water, sanitation, drainage, healthcare, schools and the rule of law. This is evident even in cities where there has been very rapid economic growth. The fact that half of Mumbai's or Nairobi's population live in ‘slums and squatter settlements’ is more to do with political choices than a lack of resources. Little more than a century ago, most ‘slums’ in Europe and North America had living conditions, and infant and child mortality rates that were as bad as the worst-governed cities in low-income nations today. Here too there were problems of under-nutrition, lack of education and serious problems with exploitation, as well as deeply entrenched discrimination against women in almost all aspects of life. It was social and political reforms that dramatically reduced these. And social and political reforms are addressing these in many middle-income nations today—as in Thailand, Brazil and Tunisia where housing and living conditions, basic service provision and nutritional standards have improved considerably for large sections of the low-income urban population.
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