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Biodiversity and Ecosystem loss

Question: Why is growing urbanization detrimental to ecosystem preservation?

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 In simpler words, urbanization is a process whereby movement
of people from villages to cities causing them to increase in size. In today’s
world, towns and cities have achieved a greater social, political and economic
breakthrough that causes rural population to move into these developed areas
with strong infrastructure. This movement of people might seem to be of immense
importance and benefit to them however, the uncountable effects inflicted on
nature due to this process have no compensation. This report shall look upon
the root causes and consequences of urbanization on nature and ecosystems
globally, nationally and locally.


Urban Growth:

From the development of earliest cities, equilibrium existed
in the proportion of population that dwelled in cities and rural areas. Since
the economy was agro based, the population was mostly concentrated in rural areas
where commercial as well as subsistence farming was practiced. A smaller
proportion of population was based in cities that comprised mainly of trade
activities and big markets. Goods were brought and exchanged according to
barter system. The proportion of population living in rural and urban areas
remained quite unchanged. According to a report, 15-16% of the population in
Mughal India lived in urban centres during 16-17 centuries. In 1800, European
population living in urban areas was 8-13%. 1

This relationship
finally broke with the industrial revolution that began in England in the late
18th century. In England, the percentage of the
population living in cities jumped from 17% in 1801 to 72% in 1891 (for other
countries the figure was: 37% in France, 41% in Prussia and 28% in the United States). 2


Since then, various
industries started to emerge and cities like Manchester and Birmingham were
experiencing a boom in terms of commerce, trade and business. Urbanization
rapidly swept across the western world and after 1950s, it began to take hold
in developing countries as well. According to the United Nations, in the year
2007, more than 50% of the world population was living in cities. 2
Figure 0.1 depicts the situation in 2015;

Figure 0.1: % of
urbanization per country 2015


The figure shows that
countries like Unites States, Canada, Australia, Brazil etc have the greatest
percentage of urbanization.

of Urban growth:

The causes of urban
growth are quite similar to that of urban sprawl. In many cases they cannot be
differentiated since they both are quite interlinked. The most common causes of
urban growth are discussed below;

in population:

The most prominent reason for urban growth is the growing population in
urban areas that occurs mainly due to two reasons. Either due to;

(1) Natural increase in population,

 (2) Migration from rural to urban

Natural increase in population occurs when the birth rate exceeds the
death rate that causes the population to rise. Cities with largest population
living in urban areas are listed below in figure 0.2;

Figure 0.2 3

As the figure suggests, cities such as Tokyo, Jakarta and Delhi have
populations over 25 million. Most common reasons discussed for high birth rates
are lack of awareness, early marriages, support of sons on farms etc. The
reasons for low death rates include better medical facilities, improved water
and sanitation, better hygiene etc. High birth rates and low death rates cause
a greater rate of natural increase that in result connects to population


The second important reason for population growth is the internal
migration usually referred to as rural urban migration. Several push and pull
factors force people to leave rural areas and migrate towards urban areas that
causes the urban population to increase at alarming rates. Internal migration
is often elucidated in terms of Push factors, conditions in the place of
origin that are thought to be detrimental to the interests of people living in
the area, and Pull factors, the conditions in new area that attract
individuals there. Some important push factors include high unemployment; fall
in agricultural output, political instability, unavailability of basic
necessities etc. Examples of pull factors include job opportunities, better lifestyle,
leisure opportunities etc.

Figure 0.3: Projected percentage increase in
urban population 2000–2030 (United Nations 2002)

In industrialized/ developed countries the
future growth of urban populations will be moderate since their population
growth rates are low and over 80% of their population already live in urban
areas. In contrast, developing countries are in the middle of the transition
process, when urban population growth rates are very high. According to the
United Nations report (UNFPA 2007), the number and proportion of urban dwellers
will continue to rise quickly (Fig. 0.3). Urban global population will grow to
4.9 billion by 2030.4

2-   Rapid

Independence of decision causes the competitors (government/ private
sector) to hold a variety of expectations for their future development demands.
They tend to choose localities that are beneficial to them even if it rides the
interest of the community as a whole. This situation is further worsened if the
city lacks a proper master plan that allows them to set up industries freely at
any location. Thus it contributes to the uncontrolled, uncoordinated and
unplanned development.


Similarly, many new industries set up in the country side or at the edges
of urban areas since the land is cheap and closer to the main market where
their finished products are sold. These industries provide their employees with
housing and recreational facilities through which new societies emerge on the
edges of urban areas that gradually increase in number and size. Finally they
become so large in size that they merge with the urban areas and cause an
increase in the size of the city in all directions.

3-       Economic Growth:

After the shift from agro based handy-craft economy to the one dominated
by machine manufacture, the GDP per capita has increased substantially.

The figure below shows a general over view of the increase in the world
GDP per capita over a span of 500 years.


Figure 0.4 5

The important point to note
is that after the industrial revolution , 18th- 19th
century, there is a sharp increase in the average GDP per capita that indicates
a rise in the income of individuals. Since their income rises, so does their
living standards. This creates demand for new housing and more housing space.
This rapid development of housing and other urban infrastructure leads to an
uncontrolled expansion of cities.


of Urbanization on Ecosystem:

The causes of urbanization mentioned
before induce harmful impacts or consequences on the Ecosystem. An ecosystem
comprises of a biological living community (plants, animals and other
organisms) interacting with the non-living environments (weather, sun, soil
etc.). Urbanization has its induced effects on a global, national and local
level. According to their connections, they have been divided as follows;


among the global consequence is the Habitat loss both Terrestrial and aquatic.

Deforestation and Habitat Loss:

Large areas of land need to be cleared in order to
provide the population with urban housing as well as other facilities that lead
to deforestation around the world. Tropical Rainforest have received most
of the consideration in connection to Habitat destruction .From the
approximately 16 million square kilometers of tropical rainforest habitat that
originally existed worldwide, less than 9 million square kilometers remain
today.6 Once the areas are cleared, they can be used for
agricultural purposes to provide adequate food supply. This also encouraged
slash and burn agriculture mostly practiced in the Amazon rainforests. Slash-and-burn is used by 200–500 million
people worldwide.7 In 2004 it was estimated that in Brazil alone, 500,000 small farmers each cleared
an average of one hectare (2.47105 acres) of forest per year8 .

Through deforestation on unsustainable lines, there has been a cut in
annual rainfall, tree burning releases carbon di oxide that contributes to
global warming. It is estimated that more than 1.5 billion tons of carbon
dioxide are released to the atmosphere due to deforestation. 11 Carbon foot prints have
increased in size. Due to lack of trees, the removal of carbon di oxide and
addition of oxygen becomes inefficient. The average global temperature on Earth
has increased by about 0.8
the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8° Celsius
(1.4° Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since
1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.

 The average temperature has risen
globally that have led to the melting of polar ice caps and increase in sea

There is a reduction in biodiversity and threatened extinction of
species such as Siberian Tiger, Iberian lynx, Brown spider monkey etc. that imposes
disturbances in the food chains finally affecting the human population.

Case Study
: Indonesia

Indonesia is a country of over 3000 islands including Java, Sumatra,
Maluku etc all of which lie closer to the equator. Indonesia’s rainforests are
one of the Earth’s most biologically rich landscapes that manifest over 3000
animal species including Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, orangutans etc.
9 However, the rates of deforestation are increasing and deforestation
of tropical rain forest is the main issue concerning Indonesia.



Estimated Amounts of
Deforestation in Indonesia


 300,000 hectares per year


 600,000 hectares per year


 1,000,000 hectares per year

Figure 0.5 10

There is a clash of ideas in concerning
who is most responsible for this issue. There is blame on government and its development
projects on a macro scale. Others blame the greed of logging companies. Some
also believe it to be the effect of rapid urbanization and high population

Causes of Deforestation:


Transmigration program
of the government to move people from overcrowded big cities like Java to less
populous areas of the country that involves clearing up of forests to
accommodate the population. Up to one million hectares of forests have already
been destroyed.10

Concessions have been
given to logging companies in 1998 which are run by influential political

There has been a delay
in legislation to control illegal cutting of trees.


Indonesia  is a major exporter of wood and wood
products that also encourages cutting down trees to obtain wood

Money from exports is
needed to pay off international debts.

Around 700,000 people
work in the logging sector of the country where unemployment rates have
worsened due to high population growth.



Increased population growth and rapid urbanization
increases competition on natural resources

Slash and burn farming practice is promoting use on
unsustainable lines.

of Deforestation:


There is a reduction in biodiversity and biomass,

 Loss on natural
habitats for animals that later endanger the species or in worst cases results
in extinction.

More competition within the food webs.

Lower rates of net primary productivity

Local people and Environment:

Degradation in the quality of air causes breathing
problems and diseases in respiratory tracts.

Conflicts between the government and indigenous
population living in tropical rain forests.

Increased soil erosion due to lack of interception and
infiltration  by trees

  Siltation in the reservoirs leading to
lower water storage capacity and HEP generation

Forest fires; sometimes lit deliberately by logging
companies to clear large areas of land.

and Local Consequences:

Since the inception of
the sovereign state of Pakistan in 1947, the rate of urbanization and rural to
urban migration has remained on a growth that has inflicted numerous
consequences leading to damage to the nature. According to the table below;12

























Future Estimate







The rate of
urbanization in Pakistan is greatest in all the SAARC countries 13.
However due to this, Pakistan has encountered many threats and problems such as
housing shortages resulting in the formation of slums that provides immense
pressure on the government bodies to cater their needs. These slums/ shanty
towns contribute to land, water and air pollution that inflict unavoidable
impacts on the ecosystem. According to a report, 23-32 million people in
Pakistan are slum dwellers 14. Lack of proper water and sanitation
along with electricity and gas supplies force these people to burn wood from
chopped down trees and wastage from cow dungs to provide them with fire for
cooking and heating. Due to such actions harmful gases like methane are
released into the atmosphere. Chopping down trees also cause loss of habitat
and biodiversity loss.

projects to provide facilities to this large urban population contribute to
deforestation and ecosystem loss. Due to the mega project, China Pakistan
Economic Corridor (CPEC), 13,784 trees measuring 200,000 cubic feet
(cft) have already been cut down to construct the main highway in Upper Hazara. Species cut
down include pine, scrub and some fruit trees. Similarly, a
total of 10,075 trees measuring 199,040 cft were chopped down in 28 villages
along the CPEC route in Lowe Hazara.15  Pakistan has almost
1029 known species of animals out of which 3.5% exist in no other country.16
Thus these species are endangered or near to be extinct. Due to deforestation
and clearing up of land for accommodating the huge influx of migrants, the average
temperature of Pakistan has increased by several degrees. In 2013, Zahid Hamid,
federal Minister of Science and Technology stated that glaciers in Pakistan are
continuously melting because of rising temperatures and by 2035 Pakistan shall
have no more water reserves in the form of 0glaciers. Deforestation along the
slopes of Himalayas for urban populations has caused immense surface run off
and terrible floods in the plains of Punjab witnessed by Pakistan in its short

Local Level:

According to the recent census conducted in 2017, population
of Lahore has reached 11.13 million. This increase population exerted an
immense pressure on the urban vegetation and disturbed the ecosystem of the
city. There has been a significant reduction in biodiversity and trees such as parakeets, mango, guava and
jambolan which were seen in abundance in the past. In an urban
life, ecosystem has a great impact since trees absorb carbon di oxide emitted
from transport vehichles and adds to the oxygen in the atmosphere. Due to loss
of vegetation and trees, there has been degradation in the quality of air.
Similarly, there is a rise in traffic congestions, inequality and loss of
productivity. The green area in Lahore is only three percent which is
continuously being sacrificed to give room for roads and buildings. This green
area falls too below the world standard that requires a minimum of 25 to 30 per
cent of green open space in urban areas.17 Therefore, temperatures
in Lahore are on a steady rise with little or no trees in various urban areas
to encounter them.


How to Combat Urban sprawl and its Effects:

Urban sprawl and deforestation can be reduced by taking
measures on an international level. One possible solution is to educate
people. One of the major problems behind this uncontrolled urban expansion is
the lack of education in most of the areas. If communities are aware of the
negative implications of urban sprawl they are most likely to take actions to
prevent this careless development. With education, people are more aware of the
effects man is imposing on the ecosystem. People will try to make decisions
that are sustainable and help to at least limit this problem.

Another way to reduce urban sprawl is to enforce birth
control. Main reason behind urban sprawl in Pakistan, Indonesia and other
countries is the increasing population growth. However, when enforcing birth
control, the authorities must take into account that this doesn’t lead to lack
of work force in a country in future. Moreover, improvements in technology can
also reduce urban sprawl allowing more people to work from home. Best examples
include EBay, Alibaba etc which are virtual markets for real products. This
shall reduce the everyday influx of workers into a city that contribute to
ecosystem loss through land, water, air and noise pollution. This can only
happen if there is transfer of technology from developed to developing

On a national as well as local level, the
government should devise a proper master plan for cities to ensure that urban
sprawl does not take place. Furthermore, government along with various Non-Government
Organizations should start afforestation projects and plant artificial forests
such as Changa Manga near Lahore. Saplings from nurseries should be planted for
every tree cut down during the projects by government in order to keep the
atmosphere clean and healthy. On local level, awareness should be raised
amongst the young generation regarding the harmful effects of urban sprawl on
our ecosystem. Efficient utilization of available resources must take place
along with projects to develop rural areas so that rural to urban migration
could be reduced which is the main reason for urban sprawl. Adequate facilities
and development must take place in rural areas so that the difference in living
standards between rural and urban regions could be reduced. Along with
government, every citizen must know his responsibility in combatting this
issue. According to a report conducted in 2012 for government of Punjab, it was
found that there were 350,000 automobiles and 850,000 motorcycles in Lahore that
are a source of immense pollution 18. Though these effects from
urban sprawl can be removed by taking the self-initiative of walking to close
destinations and use carpooling where ever possible.


How has this research affected my perspective?

After going through various reports published on
surveys conducted over this issue, its significance has increased for me. While
collecting data, I got the chance to review articles and reports published in
national example Dawn, Daily Times, The Nation , as well as international
newspapers such as The Times my perspective has changed completely. From the
beginning we all thought it was a problem to be dealt by the government.
However, I now realize it is impossible to combat this issue without support
from each individual.

Now I actively take part in blogs and organizations at
my level who try to create awareness amongst the youth of the country to reduce
all the multiple causes that lead to urban sprawl and which finally cause
ecosystem loss. I myself tried to communicate with Lahore Development Authority
(LDA) and get to know the measures government is taking to reduce the growth of
slums, cutting down of trees and related impacts on ecosystem. Their response
was really encouraging and they seemed to be open to ideas being put forward.

Finally, I always make sure that I walk to short
distances as well as my school and encourage my friends and relatives to do the
same. Betterments in transport systems in Lahore such as Metro bus and Orange
train have made it possible to reduce the use of cars as to cut down traffic
jams. And I wish to continue in raising awareness among people both in my
country and abroad through social media so that sustainability can be reached
as to benefit planet Earth on a whole.



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