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Migration, Rural-Urban

Migration, Rural-Urban Migration is a flexible and dynamic phenomenon that encompasses territorial mobility of the people and involves movements like commuting, absence from home place for periods from a couple of days to several years, seasonal migration and permanent relocation. Although diversified in forms, it involves a certain degree of commitment on the part of migrants to the place of origin and of destination. This shows whether the migration is of permanent or non-permanent nature. Non-permanent forms of migration are now becoming increasingly important given the massive improvement in the transportation networks and in the information technology. Migration is one of the vital forces that contribute to rapid urbanisation generally associated with higher levels of productivity and development.

Migration also plays an important role by linking people with spaces and transferring people from places of lower opportunities to those of higher opportunities and a subsequent transfer of resources. Bangladesh is one of the few countries where remittances from temporary migrants working abroad contribute nearly 10% to the GDP and finance a substantial proportion of trade deficit. For rural areas, remittances constitute a form of income, which not only helps in sustenance of families but also cushions against income erosion, a recurrent threat faced by poor households.

In the 90 years between 1901 and 1991, the urban population of the country increased almost 30 times (from 702,000 to 21.56 million) as opposed to only about a three-fold increase (30.7 to 88.3 million) of the rural population. The urban population grew at an annual rate of 1-2% during the British period (1757-1947) and about 4% during the Pakistan period (1947-1971). The relatively low rate of urbanisation during the British period can be explained by the slow pace of industrialisation. With the growth of jute and textiles industries, mainly in Dhaka and its surrounding areas, urbanisation accelerated during 1951-1961. The rate of urbanisation increased sharply after liberation of Bangladesh. This was associated with spread of economic and commercial activities in the urban centres. The number of urban centres rose dramatically from 78 in 1961 to 198 in 1974 and 522 in 1991.

Before 1974, there was no city in Bangladesh that had a population of one million or more but now dhaka emerged as a megacity with a population of around 10 million. Distribution of the urban population over the years reveals significant increases in the size of four major cities (Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna), particularly in recent years. In the first half of this century, they contained around a third of the total urban population and in 1991, about 50% of them lived in these cities. The level of urbanisation raised from a very low base (7.6%) in 1970 to 20% in the 1990s. The annual growth rate of urban population in Bangladesh during 1975-1995 was 3.4%, which is higher than that in the neighbouring countries and in other largely populated countries of Asia.

The rural-urban migration along with reclassification contributes nearly 60% to the urban growth. Rural-urban migration occurs in a particular type of setting marked by limited industrial but rapid commerce-centred growth around major cities, especially after the liberation. Empirical evidence suggests that the development of road infrastructure and transportation and the rapid expansion of manufacturing, trade, hotel and restaurants, and housing and construction generated demand for unskilled and semi-skilled labour in these cities. This had dramatically increased migration for job-related reasons. Also the unequal land relations and loss of land due to natural calamities influence the spatial movement of population. Available statistics suggest that top 10% of the rural households controlled 51% of land and had a share of 32% of the total income. The share of the bottom 40% of the households was 2% and 16% of land and income respectively. Subsequently, three-quarters of rural out-migration occurred from landless households. However, there had been many cases of migration from the landowning households, the members of which migrated to maximise income from diversified sources and the migration remained largely non-permanent in nature.

Most male migrants from rural areas were agricultural labourers at their original places. Rural-urban migration also takes place from the districts that had better performing agricultural sector and this is particularly witnessed in the case of migration to Dhaka city. A great deal of population mobility results from survival and adaptive strategies to maximize family income by allocating their labour in diversified income earning activities to a number of locations. Migration of independent women has been on rise since middle of 1980s as a result of establishment of export oriented garment manufacturing factories in Dhaka and Chittagong. In the 1970s, educational selectivity and population density played an important role in the process of rural-urban migration. Micro-level surveys show bi-polar pattern of educational selectivity suggesting that both the highly educated and illiterate sections of people have a great propensity to migrate as both groups undertake equal risks in this regard.

Along with education, other characteristics of migrants such as age, gender, marital status, roles and responsibilities assumed in the family, and resource endowment (particularly, landholding) play an important role in migration motivation. Role of social networks as sources of information prior to migration and other aids and assistance at the place of destination emerged as a pre-condition for migration. Similarly, rapid expansion of the rural non-farm activities and greater value addition in these activities in urban sector fail to support the thesis that high population density determines the migratory flows in Bangladesh. Migration is rather induced by jobs available in a particular area and the laws that regulate employment there, the threat of income erosion, level of development of physical and infrastructural facilities, and mechanisation of agriculture.

Rural-urban migration often leads to a broad range of consequences both beneficial and detrimental, and also mixed in the receiving and sending communities. In terms of employment and cash earnings, existing evidence weighs heavily in favour of migration. The flow of remittances contributes significantly to the welfare of the relatives left behind by the temporary migrants in rural areas. The migrants now residing in the slums of the Dhaka city tend to spend increasingly more of their earnings in nutritious food and children's education.

Yet school enrollment of slum children (6-14 years) is much lower (around 35%) than their age cohorts from rural landless households (nearly 50%). Similarly, infant mortality rate in the urban slums is comparable with rural areas. In the absence of government intervention and adequate NGO support to improve basic social services and human resources development in urban areas, the urban poor, especially poor women, are more susceptible to health and environmental hazards than their non-poor counterparts. Poor migrant households also face potential threat of income-erosion arising out of eviction, extortion by musclemen, frequent sickness and sexual harassment of women. However, contrary to the conventional wisdom, migrants living in urban poor agglomerations do manage access to urban amenities such as gas, electricity and water through informal sources.

Persistent migration from rural areas to a few large cities has serious implications for the level of productivity, the state of urban infrastructure and environmental conditions since with migrants cities grow faster than the capacity of the economy to support them. Whilst rapid and huge growth of urban population exacerbates the growing degradation, the inability to enforce basic cannons of cost recovery in delivering basic amenities, lack of coordination among different service giving agencies, and weak capacity and inadequate authority of the city corporations and municipalities are the major causes of the environmental problem. [Rita Afsar]

See also diaspora.