Rural Infrastructure - the rural/urban dynamic

Rural Infrastructure - the rural/urban dynamic

How does urbanisation affect rural communities and the need for rural infrastructure?

The effects of urbanisation must be understood, for rural development to be strategically planned.

Competition for resources – e.g. water
  • In many developing countries, agriculture is the key economic contributor. Urbanisation increases water demand and creates more waste water, reducing water for agriculture. At current agricultural water productivity, another 4,500 km3/yr would be needed to feed the world in 2050 (more than twice current irrigation water use)

Changing demands for produce:
  • Urbanisation and higher incomes lead to diversification of consumer needs, changing demands for agricultural products. This damages the livelihoods of farming communities without diverse crops or the ability/knowledge to diversify

Changing community structures and migration patterns:
  • Urban migrants in search of work are often male, increasing the rural area proportion of women and elderly. This, plus greater mobility due to better infrastructure, and increased industrial employment (rather than land-based employment), weaken traditional structures (including community cohesion) which enable community management of some development projects. Rural/urban interaction policies should not consider only mega-cities, as rural communities often interact more closely with intermediate towns and cities.

Urban resources needs impact rural infrastructure – sand mining in Sri Lanka

Rapid urbanisation drives demand for construction aggregates, leading to intense harvesting of river sands and gravels during low flows. Riverbeds are often excavated to impermeable clay or rock levels, removing the capacity of the river to store ground water.

Ground water of adjacent lands lowers (drying wells), the river level drops (affecting irrigation inlets) and the lowering riverbed undermines bridge foundations, embankments and pipelines (see photo below).

Kelani river bank erosion due to sand mining. (Photo: Badra Kamaladasa, Irrigation Department of Sri Lanka).

Manage ubanisation as an opportunity for rual poverty alleviation

Improve infrastructure for access to urban markets

  • With better communications and transport infrastructure, rural producers can reach urban and export markets more easily (often through intermediate settlements), increasing both economic activity and household welfare
  • National policy must acknowledge the rural economic input and enable local authorities to encourage infrastructure provision and support communities to adapt livelihoods.
    Adapt crops and safeguard livelihoods (see example)
  • Assist smallholders to diversify crops and households to diversify livelihood strategies beyond agricultural production (e.g. through training and micro-financing)
  • Reduce vulnerability through securing rural livelihoods so reducing the driver for urbanisation. Other methods for reducing vulnerability include micro-insurance, defence against natural disasters and disaster management plans.
    Improve water/land use efficiency
  • Urbanisation requires increased agricultural efficiencies to support growing populations and improve agricultural economic input with existing resources, and to create rural livelihoods so reducing urban migration
  • Governance systems must promote equity to ensure improved water management, to assist poverty reduction

Example: Adapting rural livelihoods to diversifying urban markets – two villages in the Red River Delta, Vietnam

The village of Nhat Dong switched from subsistence rice farming to high value fruits and vegetables with some households conducting additional non-agriculture activities that allow for investment in better farming technologies. In contrast, Ngoc Dong moved out of agriculture (now only six percent of average household income) and now produce rattan handicrafts, which along with other non-farming rural occupations make up nearly 70% of average household income.

Local authorities were critical in helping this transformation. They encouraged the building of infrastructure, training for handicraft production, and access to inputs for farmers.

Further reading:

Professor Calestous Juma (2006), Redesigning African Economies: The Role of Engineering in International Development, The 2006 Hinton Lecture