The effects of urbanization

Urbanization is the movement of people from the country side (rural areas) to cities and towns (urban areas). As urbanization increases in the Caribbean, natural resources become depleted. Natural resources are materials created naturally by the earth that are utilized one way or another for human survival. Natural resources are being exploited by human activities at a faster rate than they are being replenished.

Urbanization is a key factor that accelerates depletion since an increase in urbanization leads to an increase in natural resource consumption. Urbanization affects natural resources in several negative ways but firstly we must understand what resources are being affected, how they are affected and what we can do to resolve this problem.

Urbanization itself fosters land use change. In Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as Caribbean islands, land is a scare resource due to large domination of mountains and water resources. One problem urbanization causes is the decrease in agricultural sectors that are primarily focused in rural areas. By people leaving the rural areas, less agricultural activities will occur since less people are available to harvest the land.

Additionally, deforestation rapidly increases in and around urban areas due to this movement. For instance, areas around the capital and cities are cleared for housing and infrastructures. Simultaneously, deforestation results in a reduction in habitat, hence increasing the rate of species extinction. According to Savage (2008), “ground water, fossil fuel resources, cropland and forests are all being depleted or degraded at a faster rate than we can imagine”

Furthermore, urbanization generates more energy use, in terms of higher electricity for household and industrial use. The burning of fossil fuels significantly increases air pollution in the Caribbean. Oil is a dominant fuel source for energy production which releases carbon dioxide when burnt to generate electricity which contributes to the increase in climate change. In Trinidad, the burning of fossil fuels is heavily relied upon. Urban sprawl in Trinidad causes increased reliance on transportation.

Also, high levels of carbon monoxide are released into the atmosphere due to an increase in the number of vehicles in urban areas. These factors increase the heat levels, hence changing the microclimate of urban and sub-urban areas and driving out flora and fauna that once used to thrive there.

“Jamaica is considered the limestone capital of the world” (Douglas 2013). Due to the increase in urbanization in Jamaica, there has been a shortage of available housing in urban areas. This has resulted in utilizing limestone for constructing buildings and roadways. Hence, mining was done at a rapid rate which terminated in devastation of the environment through destruction of agriculture and habitats.

The contamination of waterways and land due to improper disposal of waste because pipelines are being removed or damaged in urban areas due to housing and development on the land spaces is also of concern.  Landfills are at capacity and waste deposition continues since there is nowhere else to dump as available land is a constraint in the Caribbean. This causes improper disposal of waste which leads back to the contamination of waterways and land pollution.

There is no one solution to this problem but a change must be made to resolve this situation. Sustainability is the key to a better tomorrow. Sustainable use of resources allows for satisfaction now, and availability of resources for future generations. The three Rs (recycle, reduce and reuse) should be a daily motto. Firstly, by recycling, exploitation is reduced as less raw materials will be required to produce goods.

Reduction and reuse of plastics and energy sources, for example, reduces strain on natural resources. However, these solutions can only happen with the right laws and regulations of a country, as well as with the cooperation of citizens.  For example, the provision subsidies or tax deductions for farmers encourages agricultural activities and provides markets for local goods, proper recycling methods to properly utilize the resource which will decrease the level of waste being disposed.

A successful agriculture sector will further reduce urbanization. Also, policies to regulate the amount of people in cities will curb the effects of urbanization.  Policies on pollution reduction to companies, be it land, water and air, an increase in public transport to decrease the number of private vehicles which contributes to air pollution. Lastly, public education will assist in the implementation of sustainable methods to help protect natural resources.

“The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth” – Marlee Matlin

Source: (Arnelle Issac is an undergraduate student at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus)

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