Urban Overpopulation: Raw Sewage and Cadavers

Ladule Lako LoSarah

       Agglomeration of population in dense urban areas has dominated current human growth trends.  Overpopulation is rampant in many of the world’s developing countries where the cities are unable to accommodate the large populations.  Large infrastructural problems occur in some developing cities that often result in environmental degradation.  A crisis is happening with regard to disposal of human solid waste and cadavers.  Many of the developing world’s cities lack proper sewage treatment, resulting in large amounts of raw sewage entering waterways.  In addition, these cities fail to dispose of the large amounts of dead bodies that large cities experience.  Both of these aspect lead to negative effects of the natural environment surrounding these pockets of overpopulation.  This is especially evident in India and the Ganges River.  The current population dynamics of large growth dense, urban areas, particularly in the developing world, create strain on the surrounding natural environment.

The United Nations estimates that currently fifty percent of the world’s population lives in dense, urbanized areas.  The percent of urban population is higher in developed nations; however, more of the world’s population inhabits the less developed nations.  The result is higher numbers of population in developing countries—not percentage. This figure is growing substantially in the developing world where the urban population is an estimated two billion and will reach four billion by the year 2025.  Many cities that will experience this boom fail to offer basic urban amenities, including sewage treatment, and provide a decent standard of living.  Lagos, Nigeria is a prime example where the United Nations predicts that the urban population of thirteen million will double to twenty-three million within the next four years. This acute growth demonstrates the fact that recently dramatic shifts have occurred in global population dynamics.  Urbanization of the world’s population is happening faster and more intensely than ever with an estimated sixty percent of humans living in cities by the year 2025.  This overpopulation of concentrated geographical areas produces adverse effects on the surrounding natural environment.

In India, the Ganges River is suffering from pollution due to the urban clusters that have located on its banks.  Around 8.5% (400 million people) of the world’s total population lives along the Ganges River.  The cities in which this large population lives are unable to support the large, dense agglomerations of people.  Plumbing is sparse in many of these areas, including the large city of Kanpur with 2.7 million inhabitants.  A large percent of the population, who lack plumbing, simply dump their raw sewage into the Ganges.  Due to the large population along the river, one billion liters of raw sewage enters the Ganges every day.  This creates tremendous environmental degradation from driving local species to endangerment and rendering the water undrinkable.  The Ganges Dolphin, a rare fresh water mammal, is currently in endangered status largely to the large amount of pollution in the water.  Indians depend on the Ganges for bathing and for drinking water.  With the large amounts of pollution, it is often unsafe for these uses and results in the sickness of many Indians.

The harsh living conditions and intense poverty of India contribute to a death rate of 8.8 per 1000 people.  With the high population along the Ganges, hundreds of thousands die each year.  The traditional Hindu disposal of the dead is to cremate the corpse and float the ashes in the Ganges River.  Unfortunately, much of the population is unable to afford the means to cremate their dead relatives completely.  The result is partially cremated corpses floating in the river.  Since the population is extremely large and dense, large amounts of cadavers litter the Ganges River, adding pathogens and biochemical oxygen demand to the water that harms wildlife and the people.

As populations continue to grow, they remain dependant on a fixed base of natural resources.  The overexploitation of these resources as a result of overpopulation often contributes to environmental degradation.  Countries with already limited resources have even more difficulty providing for their citizens, adding an increased element of strain on their natural environment.  Infrastructure problems in the underdeveloped nations’ largest cities contribute greatly to environmental disasters.  The urbanization of the developing nations proves to be a large population trend and as it appears, will become even larger in the future.  Cities provide hope and economic opportunity to the impoverished of the world’s population.  Nevertheless, producing one billion liters of raw sewage per day, the Ganges River valley possesses an unsustainable future and the opportunity that the population once sought will die with the ecosystems.  The municipal governments and world organizations must make changes in policy and poverty to accommodate the growing urban populations of the developing world in order to secure environmental sustainability.  The overpopulation of these areas poses an imminent threat to the wildlife, ecosystems, environment, and people of the developing world.

United Nations (1998), World Urbanization Prospects: The 1996 Revision, Population

Divisions, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations.

2 billion people live in the urban worldwide.  76% of the population in developed nations lives in the urban whereas 40% of the developing nations’ population lives in urbanized areas (www.prb.org)

International Food Policy Research Institute


United Nations (1998)

Alley, Kelly D. On the Banks of the Ganga: When Wastewater Meets a Sacred River, University of Michigan press (2002)

The Water Page, www.thewaterpage.com

AAAS, www.aaas.org

Census of India, www.censusindia.net/

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last updated 4/13/06