Ground Report | New Delhi: The deadly cities of India; China and India are driving Asia’s population and urbanization trends. According to a 2010 McKinsey study, the two countries are projected to account for 62% of the continent’s urban population growth between 2005 and 2025, and globally the forecast is a staggering 40%.
These statistics accentuate the urgent need for urban planning and growth management. However, it is equally important to recognize the crucial differences between the two countries. India will likely find it much more difficult to address its population challenges due to variations in urban growth development and differences in environmental policy approaches between the two countries.
China may have a population that represents 20% of humanity, but for more than two decades its fertility rates have been below the substitution level (required to maintain current population numbers), whose growth forecasts will become negative in the next two decades. As a result, India, whose population growth projections will remain positive for the foreseeable future, is poised to become the most populous country in the world. In many of the forecasts, it is estimated that the population of India will exceed that of China by 2022.
Over the next 35 years, an increase of 400 million urban residents in India is expected (more than the total population of the United States), while the urban population of China will be 292 million more. For the first time, most Indians will be living in cities – a significant transformation for a country whose rural population now makes up two-thirds of the total. (The deadly cities of India)
India’s two largest urban centers – Delhi and Mumbai – are sometimes described as emerging global megacities. Delhi is already the second-most populous city in the world and is projected to almost completely equal the population of Tokyo, the world’s largest city, by 2030.
When population growth on this scale is combined with rapid urbanization, the associated environmental and social impacts become a tremendous policy challenge. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that Delhi has the worst air quality in the world (based on the concentration of fine particles), and in these measurements, Indian cities are in the first four places, while in the first 18 places, there are 13 Indian cities.
China’s poor environmental policies have often – and rightly – been criticized. However, according to McKinsey, China has been more proactive than India in planning for rapid urbanization, thereby demonstrating that it has the capacity and resources to address environmental challenges. In new cities across the country, urban plans are already taking these disturbing issues into account, and in response, riparian corridors and ecological urban reserves have been created that complement infrastructure projects that have environmental benefits (for example, extensive mass transit networks).
In contrast, Indian cities have grown in a disorderly way, without taking into account the functioning of urban systems from a global perspective. For example, the country’s urban areas often lack adequate regional transport networks. Large swaths of informal settlements have sprung up in urban district spaces and on the peripheries, putting environmental conditions, public health, and personal safety at risk. Land use patterns intertwine industrial and residential districts, exposing vulnerable (and growing) populations to negative side effects.
According to the WHO, of the 4.3 million deaths annually from “household air pollution” (from burning solid fuels), almost a third (1.3 million) occur in India. A recent report states that stricter environmental regulations could add 3.2 years to the life expectancy of Indians. This tangible improvement in well-being would also include financial benefits.
The addition of more than two billion “life years” represents a significant amount of productivity, creativity, and unrequited contributions to families and society. By failing to adequately address the impacts of rapid urbanization, India fails to reap those benefits.