The Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development recognizes that the concentration of population in urban areas is an intrinsic dimension of economic and social development, with both positive and negative aspects. The greatest challenge seen by the programme in this regard is to cope with the enormous strain the rapid urbanization will place on social services and infrastructure in the developing world. Some of the main concerns are:
Families and children. Migrating to cities and adopting urban lifestyles puts strains on families. Parents and children cut off from extended family support become increasingly dependent on assistance from governments or the private sector. Policies need to help families cope with the demands of urban life, or at the least not to worsen them.
Households headed by women are increasing in number. Labour migration and heavy workloads in low-paying informal jobs are breaking down family ties. Compounding these problems for urban families are high levels of poverty, the need to support the elderly or disabled, AIDS and other terminal diseases, substance dependence and domestic violence abuse against spouses and children.
Millions of urban children and youths, some left to their own devices, are subject to the risk of dropping out of school, of labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. In view of the increasing problem of street children and the vulnerability of urban children, child-care centres and special protection and rehabilitation efforts are needed.
Health and environment. Policies need to protect both ecological systems and people's health in light of increasing pollution and settlement on marginal lands. All countries should give priority to ensuring everyone especially the poor and disadvantaged a safe and sanitary living environment, through measures to avoid crowded housing conditions, reduce air pollution, ensure access to clean water and sanitation, improve waste management and increase workplace safety.
Regional and urban-rural differentials in access to reproductive health including family planning and sexual health need to be reduced. An additional health concern is the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic from urban to rural areas and its growing impact on economic and agricultural production.
Population distribution. In response to rapid urbanization, governments have paid most attention to rural-urban migration, although rural-rural and urban-urban migration are more prevalent in many countries. Migration to cities both reflects the greater economic opportunities available in urban settings and increases that advantage; it is both a way to seek new life opportunities and a response to inequities in distribution of resources, access to technologies and useable land that must be redressed.
Policy issues relate to urban growth rates, distribution of population among cities of various sizes and economic roles, and protection of individuals' rights to live and work in communities of their choice. Conditions in both urban and rural areas must be improved; development should be promoted both in areas sending migrants and in those receiving them.
A balanced distribution of production, employment and population is essential for sustainable development. Policies should encourage sustainable regional development and urban consolidation, the growth of small- or medium-sized cities and sustainable rural development by creating labour-intensive projects, training youth for non-farming jobs and ensuring effective transport and communications. Decentralization of administration, expenditure, taxation and services should be considered to facilitate local development. Infrastructure improvements and environmental protection should be carried out in both urban and rural areas.
Industries and businesses should be encouraged to relocate from urban to rural areas. Infrastructure provision, investments, income-generating projects and other policies should foster rural opportunities; involvement of local communities is imperative. Grassroots organizations like credit, production and marketing cooperatives can improve rural people's livelihood. Expanded international trade facilitated by reducing restriction on agricultural imports can benefit both rural and urban areas.
Urban management agencies and planning mechanisms need strengthening and reorientation, ensuring the participation of all population groups. Particular attention should be paid to ensuring economical land use, protecting fragile ecosystems and facilitating the access of the poor to land in both urban and rural areas.
The largest cities are dynamic centres of economic and cultural activity. Strategies to address their problems also need to foster their positive contributions to economic and social development.
High priority should be given to improving the security and quality of life of low-income residents. All citizens, including urban squatters, have needs for personal safety, basic infrastructure and services, the elimination of drugs and criminality, and problems resulting from overcrowding. People living in areas prone to natural and man-made disasters need attention.
Governments should promote the integration of rural migrants into urban areas and improve their income-earning capability by facilitating access to basic education, health services, vocational training, employment, credit, production, marketing opportunities and transportation. Women workers and heads of households should receive special attention.
Effective environmental management requires special attention to water, waste and air management as well as environmentally sound energy and transport systems.
Information technologies can help bridge geographical, social and economic gaps and ensure wide participation in local, national and global-level debates about development issues. Parliamentarians, in particular, need full access to the information needed for decision making.