Urbanisation in LECDs

Urban areas are growing faster in LEDCs than anywhere else in the world, but this growth brings problems and challenges, all of which require good management and solutions.

Causes of urban growth

Although the process of urbanisation happens in both MEDCs and LEDCs, the fastest-growing cities in the world are in LEDCs.

The reasons for the growth of urban areas include:

  • A lack of employment opportunities in the countryside. Overpopulation and poor crop yields are all push factors – why people leave the countryside.
  • Better paid jobs in the cities, an expected higher standard of living, and more reliable food are all pull factors – why people are attracted to the city.
  • People who migrate to towns and cities tend to be young and so have higher birth rates in that age range.
  • Better medical conditions compared to the countryside mean more successful births and a better life expectancy.

There are many problems associated with the rapid growth. These include unplanned housing (squatter settlements/shanty towns), dealing with urban waste, pollution and stress on the infrastructure and the city’s services.

Shanty towns

The fact that cities in LEDCs are growing rapidly means that conditions can be poor. There are often great inequalities within LEDC urban areas and they are even more pronounced in LEDCs.

A township in South Africa

A township in South Africa


Some of the worst conditions are found in the shanty towns on the edge of the city, near the CBD or along main transport routes. They tend to be unplanned and are often illegal. Houses are self-built using basic materials and shanty towns have few services.

Shanty town residents face many problems on a daily basis. Khayelitsha in South Africa is a shanty town located near the city of Cape Town. Shanty towns are also known astownships in South Africa. Khayelitsha has a population of over 1.8 million people and is one of the largest townships in South Africa.

Problems in shanty towns

  • Overcrowding – the settlement has a high population density.
  • Fires – fires can spread quickly.
  • Overpopulation – the area does not have enough resources to support the growing population.
  • Competition for jobs – jobs are in short supply.
  • Disease – poor sanitation and limited health care can lead to the spread of disease.
  • Lack of space – the newest and poorest arrivals may be forced to live on the worst quality land.
  • Infrastructure – services are poor, public transport is limited and connections to the electricity supply can be limited and sometimes dangerous.

Improving shanty towns

Soweto township in Johannesburg, South Africa

Soweto township in Johannesburg, South Africa


Over time the conditions in shanty towns may improve. In many LEDCs, local communities, charities and government departments are working together to improve conditions in squatter settlements.

Improving conditions in a squatter settlement can lead to improvements in the residents’quality of life.

Approaches to improvement

Site and service schemes These give people the chance to rent or buy a piece of land. The land is connected to the city by transport links and has access to essential services (eg water). People build their own homes using money from a low-interest loan.
Self-help schemes These give people the tools and training to improve their homes. Low-interest loans may be used to help people fund these changes. People may be given legal ownership of the land.
Rural investment

Improving the quality of life and creating greater opportunities in rural areas may prevent people from migrating to urban areas. Investment in rural areas may therefore help to improve conditions in the city as well.



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