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Challenges in the Human Environment

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Challenges in the Human Environment

Have you ever walked down a busy street where someone bumps into you? You might think, “Wow, there are too many people here!”. As a result of urban growth, this will only increase. Urban areas are being faced with many challenges, as more people move into these spaces. Let's take a look at some of the causes of this growth, the issues facing urban areas, as well as the difficulties with managing this. Let's dive in.

Challenges in the human environment geography

Over half of the world's population is found in urban areas, and this is only going to increase. This urban growth can cause many challenges. Firstly, let's try and understand the concept of urban growth.

Urbanisation and urban growth

Urbanisation is the process of an increasing proportion of people living in cities or towns. This results in urban growth (an increase in the urban population). Urban growth and urbanisation can occur together but are not necessarily linked; urban growth can occur due to other factors, such as external migration.

Take a look at our explanation on Urbanisation for more information!

Why have urban areas grown?

Urban growth can be caused by migration (international migration or rural-urban migration). Migration is the movement of people to a place. Migration occurs as a result of push and pull factors. Push factors are things like natural disasters or fewer job opportunities, which push people away from a place (e.g., rural regions). Pull factors are things like better-paid jobs or improved access to services like healthcare and education, which pull or attract people to a place. Natural increase is another reason for the growth of urban areas.

Rural-urban migration is the movement of people from rural to urban areas.

Natural increase is when the birth rate is higher than the death rate. This is usually due to a high young population (18-35) and better access to medical services.

Urban growth can be dependent on the economic development levels of a country. Different countries are classified by the World Bank according to their economic levels; Lower-Income Countries (LICs), Newly Emerging Economies (NEEs), and Higher-Income Countries (HICs). Take a look at our Measures of Development explanation for more on this. LICs tend to have low urban densities, but high rates of urbanisation. HICs are characterised by high urban densities, but lower urbanisation rates. NEEs are somewhere in the middle.

High rates of urbanisation are leading to an increase in megacities around the world. A megacity is an urban area that is home to over 10 million people (e.g. London, UK, and Delhi, India). Take a look at our explanation on Megacities for more!

So, our urban areas are growing as a result of migration and natural increase. But what kinds of issues and challenges does this growth bring?

Urban issues and challenges examples

Urban growth can push a city’s limits. Let's explore some of the urban issues and challenges associated with urban growth.

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing means that no more than 30% of household income is used. Sometimes, construction does not keep pace with the number of people moving in, or housing prices are too high for the average resident. Because of a lack of affordable housing, people may take up residence in slums, squatter, or informal settlements as a quick fix. These kinds of homes are built outside of building codes and can be subject to eviction and demolishment. We'll talk more about this later on.

Slums, squatter, or informal settlements are housing areas built outside of government regulations.

Like LICs and NEEs, HICs also suffer from high housing costs. In the capital cities of Europe, for instance, demand for housing is high. Many households have to spend more of their income on housing, which widens economic inequalities.


Challenges in Human Environments, Settlements in Venezuela, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Slums in Caracas, Venezuela

Urban Pollution

Urban pollution is the presence or emission of harmful substances in(to) the air, water, or land in urban areas, which can cause environmental degradation and can contribute to Climate Change. This includes waste, air, and water pollution. Cities generate a lot more waste and pollution than rural areas. Air pollution is a result of transport and industry emissions. More traffic congestion from urban growth leads to more CO2 emissions, exacerbating the effects of Climate Change.

Challenges in Human Environments, Smog in Almaty, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Smog in Almaty, Kazakhstan

HICs tend to have older and more established sewage and sanitation systems which have managed to keep up with population growth. LICs and NEEs can struggle to keep up with this growth, leading to illegal dumping and waste disposal in areas that can pollute clean water supplies.

Urban Inequality

Urban inequality can be caused by poor planning for resource distribution, historical segregation (separation) by race and income, and/or other social issues. As a result, some parts of cities with poorer access to jobs, education, and housing could have a lower standard of living and lower life expectancy than wealthier neighbourhoods.

Urban inequality is the extreme differences in access to urban amenities and services such as jobs, housing, and education.

Standard of living is the comfort, goods, and services accessible to a group based on their income.

Life expectancy is the amount of time someone is expected to live.

In developed countries, there are issues of inequalities in housing, education, jobs, and health.

Those with lower incomes may live in areas with fewer green spaces, and more roads and traffic, leading to health problems, as the quality of the air is lower. In poorer areas, children may leave school early and with fewer qualifications, affecting future employment. Unhealthy lifestyles can also sometimes arise from a lack of education; excessive drinking, smoking, or nutrient-deficient diets can affect life expectancy.

Climate Change is also expected to affect different parts of the world, and resilience will depend on geographic location and city resources. The very poor are most at risk of things like water scarcity, flooding, and the effects of natural disasters, simply because they don't have the money for the expensive solutions. Climate Change will clearly exacerbate inequalities.

Unemployment and crime

Unemployment and underemployment rates are usually higher in developing countries. Many migrants from rural areas may be low-skilled when they move to urban areas, and therefore are unable to get a job. This can increase the informal economy.

Underemployment is not having access to jobs that fit a person's skills and abilities. This is different from unemployment, where one has no job at all.

An informal economy is an unregulated sector with no taxes or worker protection. Street sellers or market workers are good examples.

Crime is also likely to be higher in urban spaces and cities, often because there are more people. Inequalities found in urban centres are also a cause of increased crime rates.

Challenges of managing urban growth

With urban growth and expansion, there are many issues. But when it comes to managing urban growth, what are the challenges?

Housing expansion

With an increasing urban population, more people require somewhere to live. What are the problems with this?

Slums or informal settlements

Urban planning cannot keep up with the number of people moving to urban areas; this consequently results in the expansion of informal settlements, where people move and build somewhere to live. This is a result of unaffordable housing, established social and community connections in informal settlements, and access to jobs. These settlements may not have adequate access to clean water, energy, or sanitation systems. These areas are characterised by high crime rates, overcrowding, and disease spread.

Urban sprawl

This usually occurs when there is a lack of affordable housing in inner-city areas, when new businesses expand, when there is a need for more road access, or simply the need for more space to accommodate the increasing population. Although the land may be cheaper, there is a loss of green spaces and increased congestion and pollution, contributing to a lower environmental quality.

Urban sprawl is the urbanisation of the countryside around the urban core/inner-city areas.

Industrialisation and pollution

Developing countries may not be able to afford the expensive solutions to reduce pollution, compared to developed nations. There are also fewer environmental regulations in developing countries. Developing countries are experiencing rapid industrialisation; they may be the sites for factories and textile industries which pollute more. Air pollution can come from more traffic congestion in older vehicles and unregulated factory pollution. Water pollution can occur from improper or illegal dumping of sewage and industrial waste.

Developed countries often source products from developing countries. They benefit from this by having cheaper products and labour, without dealing with the environmental consequences. We call this movement of manufacturing to other countries 'offshoring'.

The challenge of resource management

Resources are vital for our survival, or for improving our standard of living. Resources are things like food, water, or energy sources. The majority of resources are consumed in urban areas, and as the population grows, making sure there is enough resource supply, to reduce deficits and insecurity, is vital. Each city has a challenge in providing these necessary amenities to its residents. Take a look at our explanations on Global Resource Management, and our other explanations relating to energy, water and food supplies, consumption, and management.

Urban issue case studies

Within geography, using case studies can help to example the points that you have made. Our case study explanations on urban issues are super important for this topic. Take a look at Urban Challenges in the UK (HIC), Rio de Janeiro Case Study (NEE) and Lagos Case Study (LIC).

Challenges in the Human Environment - Key takeaways

  • Urban growth is a result of increased urbanisation, migration, and natural increase.
  • Some of the urban issues and challenges associated with this urban growth are lack of affordable housing, urban pollution, and urban inequality.
  • The challenges of managing this growth include housing expansion, industrialisation and pollution, as well as the challenge of resource management.
  • Some great case studies for urban issues can be exampled by London, UK (HIC), Rio de Janeiro (NEE), Brazil, and Lagos, Nigeria (LIC).

References

  1. Fig. 2: Smog (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smog_over_Almaty.jpg) by Igors Jefimovs (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Igor221219760 licensed by CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Challenges in the Human Environment

Urban growth is an example of a challenge in the human environment. It results in issues with lack of affordable housing, urban pollution, and urban inequality.

Urban change (growth) has created environmental challenges to a large extent. 

Urban change (growth) has created many environmental challenges, such as an increase in urban pollution. This can be a result of waste and water pollution, as well as air pollution from transport and emissions. 

Environmental challenges can result in environmental degradation and exacerbate Climate Change.

Rural-urban migration describes the movement of people from rural areas into urban areas.

Final Challenges in the Human Environment Quiz

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Urbanisation is...

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rapid growth in urban areas

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Urban growth is caused by...

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the increase in urban housing

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An example of a push factor is...

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a flood

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An example of a pull factor is...

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access to good schools and hospitals

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Natural increase is...

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when the birth rate is higher than the death rate

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Megacities have a population over

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10 million people

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The major issues and challenges of urban growth are

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affordable housing, urban pollution, urban inequality, and unemployment and crime.

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A lack of affordable housing in developing countries can lead to...

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slums, squatter, or informal settlements

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Dangerous levels of urban pollution can lead to...

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illness or death.

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What are causes of urban air pollution in developing countries? 

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Emissions from older vehicles and unregulated factories

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Improper dumping of sewage and industrial waste can lead to...

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water pollution.

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Urban population is highest in Higher Income Countries (HICs)

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True

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True or false: urbanisation rate is highest in Lower Income Countries (LICs)

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True

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How much of the world's population lives in urban areas?

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32%

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India and China are considered...

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HICs

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UK and Germany are considered...

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HICs

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Ethiopia and Afghanistan are considered...

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HICs

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What is the current population of Delhi, India?

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31.2 million 

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What is urbanisation?

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Urbanisation is the growth of cities as people move into urban areas.


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What are megacities? 

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Large cities that have a population size of over 10 million.


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How many megacities were there in th 1950s? 

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2 - New York and Tokyo.

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According to the UN, currently how many megacities are there globally?


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33

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What are some reasons for the increase in megacities? 


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  • Rising birth rates
  • Natural increase
  • Migration
  • Urban Sprawl

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True or False: Transport systems and infrastructures are extensive in megacities.


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True

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Which countries have the biggest subway networks in the world?

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Shanghai

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What is gentrification? 

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This is when wealthy people move into an area, increasing housing prices and often displacing people who were originally living there. 


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Why is productivity and innovation so high in megacities? 


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  • Connectivity within the city
  • Migration and human capital

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What is an ecological footprint? 


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An ecological footprint describes how human existence impacts the environment, through the amount of resources that humans use, in relation to the ability of the planet to sustain this usage. 



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Why is pollution is a large issue in megacities?


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Extensive transport systems, networks, and high populations can lead to congestion on roads systems, for example. This can result in noise and air pollution. 


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What is urban sprawl?

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Cities expand over large areas of space, often into surrounding green spaces, increasing the city boundaries. 


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True or False: Gentrification can cause displacement.

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True

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What are slums? 

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Makeshift housing areas, which are heavily populated and have high levels of poverty. 


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True or False: New York accounted 5% of all global covid cases in 2020.


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True

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What is an example of a developed world megacity? 


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Tokyo

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What is Dharavi and where is it located?


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Dharavi is the biggest slum on the Asian continent, home to 1 million people. It is located in Mumbai, a developing world megacity. 


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True or False: The urbanisation rate is usually higher in wealthier countries

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False 

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A megacity is...

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A city with a population of 10 million or more

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Which of the following is NOT a push factor?

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Joining family members who have already moved

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What percentage of the global population does the UN predict to be living in urban areas by 2030?

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60%


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Which of the following is NOT an improvement made by the Favela - Bairro Project?

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Food Banks

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True or False: Rapid Urbanisation does not place tremendous strain on the public health services

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False

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Which of the following is not a cause for urban air pollution?

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Toxic chemicals entering rivers

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True or False: Animals have adapted to cope with rapid urbanisation

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False - animal habitats and food sources are being depleted

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What are potential solutions to the problems posed by rapid urbanisation?

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Changing the way we travel and planning the future of cities in a green, sustainable way.

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What is the term used to describe a higher proportion of the population living outside of cities?

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Counter - urbanisation

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True or False: Natural increase occurs when the birth rate is higher than the death rate.

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True

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Which of the following is not an example of an HIC?

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Brazil

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Which country would you estimate has a higher proportion of the population living in urban areas: Ethiopia or Japan?

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Japan

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True or false: The majority of rural - urban migration is undertaken by established businessmen and families.

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False - it is mostly younger people looking for jobs and education

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Who first built London? 

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The Romans

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