Humans are a plague upon the planet.  This is the philosophy that 

many environmentalists and zero-growth advocates live by.  Regardless of 

whether or not one agrees with this statement, it is clear that 

exponential growth of the human population will affect the natural 

environment.  As our human numbers increase, the finite supply of natural 

resources needs to support more and more people.  Further, as Third World 

countries develop and levels of affluence increase, the citizens there 

will demand more goods per person.  Pollution is bound to increase, as it 

has been for decades, and resources are bound to become more scarce, but 

for how long?  How much can the Earth supply before our rates of growth 

level off?

        These are questions that the establishment of a 

population-environment dynamic hopes to answer.  Specifically, this paper 

will examine the urbanization transition (along with the demographic 

transition) and the corresponding effects on the environment.  Kenya will 

serve as the study area, as a country in the midst of both of the above 

transitions.  Continued high rates of population growth strain many 

sectors of Kenyan society, including agriculture, education, urban 

infrastructure, sanitation, water supply, energy, and employment. 

        Growth of the urban environment appears to coincide with overall 

population growth.  Urban growth has intense and often specific effects 

on the environment because of its high population densities.  For 

example, the need for employment brings industry to cities, and along 

with it air and water pollution and increased need for energy.  Citizens 

of large Third World Cities such as Nairobi demand improved roads and 

sewers;  this requires more energy, construction materials, and a steady 

water supply (often entailing more hydroelectric projects in the 

country).  Demand for food in the cities must also be supplied by rural 

areas, and with fewer people per hectare of arable land because of 

rural-urban migration.  This necessitates more capital-intensive 

agricultural practices, such as herbicide and pesticide use (with obvious 

negative effects on soil and water supply).  As more and more rural 

people migrate to cities in search of better employment and educational 

opportunities, poverty-stricken shantytowns flourish around the outskirts 

of major cities.  The basic needs of residents of these areas, including 

health services, often remain unmet.  In the wake of urbanization and the 

resulting inequities (or perceived inequities) between urban and rural 

residents  the potential for social unrest increases.

        Despite all the problems that proliferate in cities such as 

Nairobi, I will assert that cities can exert positive forces on the 

population environment dynamic as well.  In areas such as education and 

sanitation, urban areas can exert the power of economies of scale that 

rural areas cannot.  Better education and better access to health 

services, as more often found in urban areas, can lead to reductions in 

fertility, which relieves pressure on the environment.  This reduction in 

fertility is crucial to the survival of the Kenyan people, in that 

agricultural limits are approaching, environmental stresses are 

increasing, and food shortages may be in Kenyas future.

Africa in general

        According to the United Nations Environment Programme, most of 

Africa is actually under-populated (UNEP 1).  The problem, however, is 

whether or not the increasing numbers of people will "be gainfully 

employed or whether, on the contrary, they will swell the ranks of the 

under-employed and the jobless" (UNEP 1).  Their fear is based on the 

prediction that the growth of urban areas will continue at a rapid rate 

without a complementary increase in activities  or the creation of an 

adequate number of jobs (UNEP 4).   


        Kenya is largely an agricultural nation, despite recent trends in 

rural-urban migration.  In fact, the Kenya Highlands is one of the most 

productive agricultural regions in Africa (CIA 160).  The labor force 

consists of 15% agriculture, 50% public sector, 20% services, and 14% 

industry and commerce.  Climate in Kenya is quite variable, from tropical 

at the coast to arid in the interior.  As of July 1989, the population of 

Kenya was 24,346,250 with an annual growth rate of 4.2% (CIA 160).  As 

shown in Figure 1, Kenya has one of the highest growth rates in Africa.  

The United States Central Intelligence Agency estimated literacy at 47% 

of the total population in 1989 (CIA 160).  

        The population of Kenya in the 1979 census was 15,327,061, and 

had risen to over 24 million by 1989 (CIA 160).  Of the total figure, 

827,775 live in the capital of Nairobi and 341, 148 in the coast city of 

Mombassa (Central Bureau of Statistics 13).  From Figure 2 below, we can 

see the trends in birth and death rates in Kenya.  In 1989, according to 

CIA figures, total fertility in Kenya was at 7.8 children born per woman 

(160).  The 1989 birth rate was 51 births per 1000 population while the 

death rate was only 9 per 1000 population.  The birth rate has been slow 

to "catch up" with the steady decline in the death rate, although it is 

declining and projections by the World Resources Institute indicate that 

it will continue to do so.   This pattern is typical of countries such as 

Kenya in the early stages of economic development (Ominde 1984, 41).  

Despite movement towards the urban areas, Kenya remains a largely 

agricultural nation, with some 80 percent of the population working on 17 

percent of the land.    The vast majority of Kenyans are small scale 

farmers;  however, large scale farms dominate coffee, tea, cereals, and 

livestock products-the export oriented sector of agriculture (Brass & 

Jolly 11). The potential impacts of urban-rural migration on agriculture 

and land-pressures will be discussed later.

Figure 1.  Thematic Map of Africa by Population Growth Rate.

What stage of the demographic transition is Kenya in?

        The demographic transition involves moving from a state of high 

birth and death rates to one of low birth and death rates.  According to 

William Drake, at the beginning of the transition when birth and death 

rates are high they are "in relative equilibrium with each other" (304).  

By some event the death rate then dramatically drops,  starting the 

transition.  The widespread availability of western style health care 

such as immunizations in the Third World has recently caused this drop in 

death rates.  By definition of the transition, after a time lag, the 

birth rates slowly drop to catch up to the death rates until another 

equilibrium is reached (Drake 304).  Because of this time lag, some 

growth in population is inherent in the transition.  How drastic/sudden 

is the drop in the death rate determines  largely the manageability of 

the population growth.  If a very sudden drop in the death rate occurs, 

such as in many Third World countries including Kenya, a population 

explosion occurs "and society experiences all the stress and human misery 

created by this condition" (Drake 304).  This combination of high 

fertility and low mortality is characteristic of the contemporary 

demographic situation in northern Africa.  However, countries in eastern 

and western Africa have generally experienced both high mortality and 

high fertility (typical of a country that hasn't gone through the 

demographic transition).  Kenya was one of these countries, until it 

experienced substantial mortality declines in the 1970's.  This resulted 

in considerably increased growth rates for Kenya (Ominde 1984, 27).  In 

the mid-'70s, Kenya's growth rate was estimated at 3.7 percent, the 

highest in Africa (Ominde 1984, 28).  In 1989, the growth rate had risen 

to 4.2% (CIA 160).  Kenya has long been considered one of Africa's 

success stories because of its relative political stability and social 

tranquillity.  However, this success has been tempered in per capita 

terms by its rapid population growth (Brass & Jolly 8).


Figure 2.  Birth rates and death rates superimposed on total population.  

Date source:  World Resources Data Base 1994-95.
        As seen in Figure 3 below,  population growth appears to have 

been the highest in semi-arid parts of Kenya, due in large part to 

reductions in infant mortality among pastoralists (Livingstone 6).  In 

contrast, low rates of growth in areas such as the Victoria basin reflect 

reductions in the natural rate of growth by migration to other areas 

because this area has run out of capacity to absorb population 

(Livingstone 9).   

        According to Brass and Jolly, "Kenya has undergone the first 

stage of a classic demographic transition, declining mortality coupled 

with relatively constant fertility.  This phase would now appear to be 

complete, because future mortality declines will be more modest and 

therefore not affect the overall growth rate as much.  Fertility is now 

the crucial process governing growth (21).  According to Ominde, the 

demographic trend parallels that of many of the countries in similar 

stages of development.  The difference, he asserts, is that in Kenya the 

combination of high fertility and rapidly declining mortality is 

"virtually unprecedented in demographic history" (Ominde 1984, 53).  


        As shown in Figure 4 below, the risk of dying at a young age has 

dropped dramatically since 1940, life expectancy has risen, but total 

fertility has continued to rise.  

Figure 4.  Fertility Rate, Probability of Dying and Life Expectancy.  

From:  Brass and Jolly.

Fertility is highly related to mortality, as Ominde discusses.  

"Expectations of life have a direct bearing on the extent to which 

population is just replacing itself or exceeding the replacement level" 

(Ominde 1984, 30).  Mortality conditions were such in Africa that a woman 

needed 3.5 births to replace the parent generation, whereas in the United 

States only 2.1 births were needed (Ominde 1984, 30).  Where female death 

rates are high, a higher level of fertility is required to maintain the 

population at the same level.  By 1972 the total fertility rate was 

estimated at an astonishing 8.1 births per woman (Ominde 1984, 43).  Some 

reasons for this rise in fertility include better health conditions in 

Kenya, which created a tendency for miscarriage rates to decline.  As an 

indicator, the percentage of childless women declined noticeably between 

1969 and 1977, from 7.9 percent of women 45-49 to only 4.5 percent in the 

same age group in 1977 (Ominde 1984, 43).  Researchers have also found 

that fertility declines drastically with secondary-school education for 

women.  This may be because increasing education is generally associated 

with a tendency for women to delay marriage and childbearing.  As Micah 

Cheatham points out in the chapter on fertility reduction in India, 

education is negatively correlated with fertility when looking at data on 

primary school education and fertility rates of females aged twenty-five 

and over from countries in all stages of the demographic transition.  

Also, increased education for women leads to increased chance of modern 

sector employment, which can entail changing values about family size 

(Ominde 1984, 44).  Urban women are much more likely to be of the group 

of women with higher levels of education, which tends to reduce 

fertility.  However, they also have better access to health care and 

nutrition, which are factors which tend to reflect a more fertile 

(physically healthy) population.  

        As can be seen in Figure 3, urban fertility is systematically 

lower than rural fertility in every province in Kenya, the highest 

fertility rates being found in the Western Province and the lowest in the 


        In urban environments, patterns of fertility differ from those in 

rural areas.  In a rural setting, children are viewed as a form of 

consumer durable yielding a flow of services over time.  The labor of 

children adds to family income and it provides economic and social 

security for the parents in the future.  Of course, there are costs to 

having children as well, such as the opportunity cost of parents not 

working while raising children.  Families tend to balance the utility of 

children against the costs of bearing them and raising them.  In rural 

areas, the utility of the childrens labor and income generating potential 

clearly outweighs the costs, since few women have significant employment 

opportunities.  However, as wage/income earning opportunities increase, 

alternative uses of time increase the price of children relative to other 

goods, mostly through increasing the opportunity cost of the mothers 

time.  Also, increased income leads parents to spend more on better 

clothing, housing, nutritious food, and high quality education.  Thus the 

cost of raising each child increases.  These characteristics of increased 

income generating opportunities, better wages, and better opportunities 

for purchasing the above amenities are prevalent in urban areas.  Thus, 

the logical conclusion is that family size and fertility will decrease in 

urban areas (Oberai 155).

        This set of circumstances may indicate that increased 

urbanization is a good way to reduce fertility and therefore reduce 

population pressures.  However, many migrants to urban areas are not 

affluent enough to afford the amenities which increase the costs of 

having children.  More common is that in-migrants live in slums on the 

outskirts of the city.  Surveys indicate that in poor urban areas such as 

the slums outside of Nairobi, only 20.5% of households have flush 

toilets, 46.7% have regular garbage disposal services, and 55.45 have 

access to public water standpipes (Oberai 157).  This lack of facilities 

in slum areas reflects the lower probability that these residents will 

spend more on relative luxury goods such as education and better clothing 

for their children.  Women will also have fewer opportunities to earn 

higher wages while living in these shantytowns.  Thus, slum dwellers have 

higher fertility levels than the general population in many Third World 

cities like Bombay (Oberai 159).  According to Oberai, The results of 

studies reviewed...suggest that in general urban poor have larger 

families than the urban non-poor, both because of their desire to have 

more children for reasons of economic security and because of their 

limited access to education, health facilities, family planning and other 

social services (Oberai 160).

Population momentum and the future

        The concept of momentum is an important one in analyzing 

population dynamics.  The effects of reductions in fertility, say, as the 

result of family planning programs, will not be felt for many years due 

to the youthful character of the population.  As shown in Figure 5 below, 

the age structure of Kenya is heavily weighted toward the bottom, 

younger, segment of the pyramid.  Because the young people still have to 

grow up and reproduce, the "population momentum" will carry population 

levels up until the next generation is born and the effects of the family 

planning programs can be felt.  So even if this generation of young 

people entering child bearing age has only 2 children per couple 

(replacement level fertility), the 

Figure 5.  Age Structure.
population will still increase greatly before reaching a stable level.  

As Ominde explains this concept of population momentum: "The imbalances 

in the birth-rates and death-rates and the fact that more than half the 

people in these regions are under the age of 15 mean that the demographic 

upsurge will not relent until well into the twenty-first century"  (1984, 

32).   Where this population pyramid is broad based, with high 

proportions of younger ages, dependency ratios are high;  many young 

people are dependent on relatively few adults.  This results in  

resources being diverted to more consumption and thus less savings and 

investment (Ominde 1984, 40).   Urban poverty often exacerbates this 

dependency problem.  A poor urban household is characterized by low, 

irregular earnings by one principal worker and a large number of people:  

hence the high ratio between household size and the number of earners 

(Oberai 145).  

History of Urbanization in Kenya

         The population in Kenya has been largely distributed around 

environmental factors and productive agricultural areas.  Sparse 

populations in vast parts of the country is due to rainfall patterns;  

the Kenyans have tended to settle more densely around areas which receive 

high rainfall and therefore have a high potential for development 

(Alikhan 65).  

Figure 6.  Monthly rainfall data by district.  From Odingo.

        Another major factor contributing to the uneven distribution of 

population was the alienation of large amounts of productive areas for 

the occupation of white settlers during the period of colonial rule.  

Prior to colonial administration, land was largely owned on a tribal 

basis (Ominde 1984, 6).  During colonial rule, the African population was 

confined to Native Reserves;  the areas that once were these reserves 

continue to be the areas with the highest densities (Kisii, Kakamaga, and 

Kiambu for example).  Lands occupied by pastoral tribes such as the 

Masaii tend to have the lowest densities, districts such as the Tana 

River, Lamu, Narok, and Samburu (see Figure 7 for locations).  While 

urbanization has increased in most all of Kenya from 1969-1979, the Coast 

province has remained relatively unaltered;  curiously, this is the only 

province with an indigenous urban tradition (Alikhan 66-67).

Figure 7.  Map of Kenya
        Areas with the highest levels of urbanization are located in the 

former White Highlands, where towns grew in response to economic 

development during colonial times, and in the Coast Province where the 

urban tradition dates back to a period of Arab influence (Alikhan 67).  

Urban agglomerations in the Arab Coast province arose in the form of 

trading centers from the ninth century onward (Ominde 1984, 59).  The 

arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya are more urbanized than their more 

environmentally favorable counterparts in the southwestern part of the 

country (see Figure 8).


Urban-Rural Migration.

        Environmental problems associated with population growth often 

manifest themselves in the urban areas.  Thus, it is important to examine 

the phenomenon of urban-rural migration along with population growth to 

establish a population-environment dynamic.  First, we must determine 

whether or not there is a link between population growth and 

urbanization.  If we examine Figure 9 below, it appears that there is a 

positive correlation between population growth and growth in the urban 

population.  Both are growing at an exponential rate, a characteristic 

that becomes unmanageable very quickly. 

        According to Livingstone, rural-urban migration tends to have a 

bias toward young people with some education (10).  Those with more 

education seem to be less content in rural areas and seek out the cities 

in search of employment.  Whether or not cities can actually provide this 

employment and whether or not existing services can absorb these new 

immigrants is debatable.  Overall, 37.8 percent of all male migrants in 

Kenya move from rural to urban areas, and 31.1 percent of all female 

migrants do the same (Ominde 1984, 76).  This gap between male and female 

percentages can possible be explained by the above assertion that 

migration to urban areas has a bias toward those with some education, a 

group that is predominantly male. The next largest category of migration within Kenya 

is rural to rural, which accounts for 35 to 36 percent of all migration 

(Ominde 1984, 76).  

        Some general characteristics of migrants to Nairobi will help in 

analyzing the reasons for this movement and may lead us to policies to 

make the flow more manageable.  Over forty percent of migrants to Nairobi 

are Kikuyu, the major ethnic group in Kenya (composing 20.8 percent of 

the total population) and 35.9 percent come from the central district 

(Alikhan 168-169).  A large majority of migrants come directly from their 

place of usual residence (76 percent).  The vast majority of migrants to 

Nairobi are between 20 and 34 years of age and are Christian.  

Sixty-seven percent of migrants to the city have more than a primary 

education.  Respondents of Alikhan's field study indicated that the major 

reasons for migrating to Nairobi were for job availability, better paid 

jobs, and better educational facilities (Alikhan 181).  These statements 

are a testament to the inequalities between urban and rural areas in 

terms of services, and suggest that if job opportunities were increased, 

wage differentials between cities and rural areas were diminished, and 

educational facilities were improved in rural areas, the pulls of the 

city would be lessened, along with the pace of migration.  Indeed, we 

must not forget the role of women in major cities of the Third World, as 

they often carry an exceptional burden, providing economic support and 

performing housekeeping and child-rearing as well.

        Migration occurs because of certain "pushes" urging people out of 

their area of residence and "pulls" toward the cities.  Some of these 

pushes include relief of population pressure in the rural areas 

(especially when the move to the city is permanent), the need for a 

supplementary source of income (which can be accomplished through 

remittances to the family at home from the migrant), and the need for 

capital for the development of farms or other activities in the rural 

home areas (Livingstone 12).  In rural areas, certain "pushes" operate to 

encourage people to move to the cities.  Often, education is seen as 

giving access to employment outside the farming sector, which has great 

value to families during years of crop failure (offering a measure of 

security).  "Households used income diversification both to secure 

themselves against risk and to build up savings for investment in the 

farm" (Mortimore, Tiffen and Gichuki 142).  It is important to note that 

persistent rural-urban migration has increased the incidence of 

female-headed households in rural areas, especially in areas where male 

out-migration has been substantial.  This has implications for income, 

welfare, and agricultural extension and production (Livingstone 15). 


Figure 9.  Growth in Urban Population versus Total Population Growth.  

Data source:  World Resources Data base 1994-95.

        Why is urbanization such a concern in the Third World while First 

World countries went through the transition without much discussion?  

Granted, there have been great problems with urbanization in 

industrialized countries, including pollution, traffic congestion, 

shortage of housing, insufficient sanitation, social friction, 

delinquency, and aesthetic environmental deterioration.  However, in less 

developed countries, such as Kenya in the wake of the end of the colonial 

system, "cities now grow with even greater speed, despite the meager 

resources available for coping with the adverse consequences" (Ominde 

1984, 30).  This rapid growth magnifies the problems experienced by 

developed countries in lesser developed nations.  In these developing 

countries, "the rate of increase in absolute numbers of urban population 

and the associated growth in rural population has no parallel" (Ominde 

1984, 30).  Natural rates of population growth in developing countries 

like Kenya are much higher than any ever experienced in currently 

industrialized nations.  In unplanned slums of major cities like Nairobi, 

population growth rates approach 7-8 percent while the general urban 

population is growing at approximately 5 percent per year (Ominde 1984, 


        In now-developed countries, urbanization occurred because of 

increases in agricultural productivity which provided capital 

accumulation and less need for labor; thus creating a rural labor 

surplus.  Capital inputs were available as a result, and so industry 

could expand and offer more opportunities for labor.  Thus, "Urbanization 

in the experience of now-developed countries was thus both a cause and a 

consequence of higher standards of living" (Oberai 24).  In countries 

such as Kenya, the rapid increase of rural populations led to an increase 

in the rural labor force which could not be absorbed by the agricultural 

sector.  Therefore, in Kenya and other Third World nations, urban growth 

has resulted from pressures of rural poverty, and so its consequences 

have been negative (unemployment, slums, and poverty-Oberai 25).  

Figure 10.  Demographic trends worldwide.  From Ominde 1984 (Population 

and Development in Kenya)
From Figure 10 above, urban population growth in Africa occurred at a 

rate of 4.8 percent per year, while rural areas grew less than half as 

fast (1.8 percent).  This is partially due to the phenomenon of 

rural-urban migration, which now constitutes the largest volume of 

migration in the world (Ominde 1984, 31).  Many problems are associated 

with this rapid urban growth.  A few major concerns in Kenya include:  

the squalor of rapidly growing slums, deterioration in public services, 

shortage of housing, congestion in the streets, growth in unemployment, 

and worsening imbalance in income distribution (Ominde 1984, 32).   In 

1985, industrial workers earned three times as much as agricultural 

workers in developing countries (Oberai 31).  All of these problems lead 

to less direct effects on the environment, which will be discussed in the 

next section.

Urban Growth and the Environment

        Growth in urban areas has ramifications on the environment that 

stretch well beyond the boundaries of the city.  Increased numbers of 

people must be supported by the same amount of land in rural areas and 

relatively fewer people to manage it (as greater proportions of people 

migrate to the cities).  In 1969 approximately two-thirds of the total 

area of Kenya supported only 8 percent of the population: the urban 

population (Ominde 1984, 54).  This spatial inequality in the 

distribution of population leads to many problems in resource 

development.  Agriculture must be intensified or expanded to feed the 

urban dwellers.  Hydroelectric projects must be used more frequently to 

supply water and energy to the cities.  Industry blossoms in the city, 

increasing pollution and taking resources from rural areas.  

        Industrial growth seems an inevitable consequence of 

urbanization, for industry exploits the economies of scale found in large 

cities such as Nairobi.  Whether or not growth in industry can occur 

rapidly enough to accommodate immigrants from rural areas who seek formal 

sector employment is questionable, however some burgeoning of industry is 

almost certain.  As we can see from the graphs below (Figures 12-15), 

increases in urban population in Kenya have produced corresponding 

increases in fuel and charcoal production and carbon dioxide emissions 

(although CO2 emissions are more erratic).  Using best fit curves to 

project this data set into the future, we can see that if current trends 

continue pollution will increase and pressures for coal and fuel 

resources from rural areas will increase. 

        From Figure 11 below, it appears that agricultural 

intensification is the wave of the future, because agricultural land has 

not expanded much in recent decades.  All the land area suitable for 

rainfed agriculture is already being cultivated and there has been a 

shift in the agricultural boundary into some semi-arid areas in the east 

and north (Darkoh 1991, 61).  This expansion of agriculture could mean 

increased desertification if current farming techniques are used (which 

tend to promote erosion).  Erosion ravages prime agricultural areas and 

leaves little potential for production.

        Some 483,830 square kilometers of Kenyas total area of 569,137 

square kilometers is already experiencing some form of desertification, 

or 85% of the total land area (Darkoh 1991, 61).   This desertification, 

caused in large part by agricultural expansion, has repercussions on 

agriculture, creating a sort of negative feedback loop.  About 30% of 

land in Kenya has been moderately to seriously affected by 

desertification with about 55% in imminent danger of declining in 

productivity, leaving only 15% of the land in good condition for farming 

(Darkoh 1991, 61).   Estimates suggest that by the year 2000 Kenya will 

only be able to feed 17% of its population from its own land, using low 

inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, and will not be able to produce 

adequate food for its entire population even at intermediate levels of 

inputs (Darkoh 1991, 66).

        Intensification of agriculture to produce needed food for urban 

areas could also have effects on the income distribution of Kenya.  The 

demand for  inputs, many of which are urban-based, will likely increase 

with agricultural intensification.  Therefore rising rural incomes will 

also increase the demand for goods and services produced in the city, 

thus stimulating urban incomes and expenditures disproportionately (Anker 

and Knowles 45).   Despite this inequality, the experience of the 

Machakos area in Kenya supports the hypothesis that increasing population 

density leads to intensification through changing labor-to-land ratios 

(Mortimore, Tiffen and Gichuki 141).

Figure 11.  Land use changes in the Kenya Highlands between 1920 and 

1960.  From Odingo.


Figure 12.  Curve fit and actual data for Charcoal and Fuel Production in 

Kenya.  Data source:  World Resources Data Base 1994-95.


Figure 13.  Commercial Fuel Production and Urban Population in Kenya.  

Data Source:  World Resources Data Base.  [A logistic curve might also be 



Figure 14.  Traditional Fuel Consumption in Kenya.  Data Source: World 

Resources Data Base 1994-95. [A logistic curve might also be fit.]

Figure 15.  Industrial CO2 Emissions and Urban Population in Kenya.  Data 

source:  World Resources Data Base 1994-95.  [Compare this curve to the 

graphs of the rainfall data, Figure 6.]

        Water supply for the growing urban populations is also a major 

concern.  In Nairobi, the mean annual water use per capita was 154 liters 

in 1968, compared with 556 liters in U.S. cities (White, Bradley and 

White 115). Water deficiencies are common from January to March and July 

through September in Nairobi.  Per capita water use is dependent on many 

factors, including size of family, income level, education, cultural 

heritage, and the cost of obtaining water (White, Bradley and White 

117).  Low-density urban areas tend to use the most water per capita (252 

liters) compared to medium high density areas using 167 liters per person 

(White, Bradley and White 118).  Therefore, it seems that as urban 

densities increase, per capita water use decreases.   This may be 

interpreted as a positive consequence of urbanization in Kenya.  However, 

the increasing numbers of urban dwellers may dampen the positive effects 

of lower per capita use, resulting in still higher demands on water 

supplies that are currently in shortage many times during the year.     

        In most of the highland area of Kenya, where Nairobi is located, 

rainfall is variable and uncertain (Odingo 150).  Farmers in the area are 

facing increased pressures for livestock development because of the 

demands of a more modern urban population.  This in turn requires more 

water, and so more boreholes and dams.  Large scale dams and other water 

projects have been shown to have large negative effects on surrounding 

land and populations.  Large areas of land are submerged by dam retention 

areas, including areas along the Tana River where past water projects 

were located.  Disease also increases around water retention areas as 

water-borne viruses flourish.  Therefore the demand for water and 

agricultural products in urban areas often degrades the environment in 

rural areas.

        Increased energy demand from urban areas is having a large 

negative effect on the environment of Kenya.  Urban demand for charcoal, 

largely in Mombassa and Malindi, leads to the wholesale cutting of 

forests in the Kilifi district (Darkoh 1991, 69).  Forests have been cut 

to the point of encroachment onto traditionally reserved areas such as 

the Kaya forests (Darkoh 1991, 69).

Urbanization, the Environment, and the Future.

        Some have attributed environmental degradation in Africa to the 

absence of environmental awareness among the poor.  It is, of course, 

unreasonable to expect people living on the edge of existence, worrying 

about their next meal, to be concerned with the larger environment.  

Darkoh contends that environmental degradation is largely caused by 

"human population pressure and outside influences (e.g..-modernization) 

leading to over-exploitation and poor management of resources (forests, 

soil, water, atmosphere, etc.) through over-cultivation, overgrazing, 

deforestation, poor irrigation practices, pollution, etc." (Darkoh 1993 

60).  Disproportionate growth of urban areas plays a large role in this 

phenomenon as pressures for goods and services increase.  As Darkoh 

points out, "demand for household fuel poses a clear threat to economic 

development in several countries.  It has led to denuded forests near 

rural villages and round towns and cities.  With the loss of tree cover 

comes increased erosion and lower crop yields.  The resulting loss of 

soil fertility reduces harvests which in turn means poverty for the 

dependent population" (2, 60).

        This environmental degradation in rural areas, caused in large 

part by the demands of cities, can in fact cause even more people to go 

to cities in search of better conditions.  The case of the Ethiopian 

Highlands illustrates this experience:  starvation and death forced the 

exodus of millions of environmental refugees to urban areas or less 

degraded lands elsewhere (Darkoh 1993 61).  Could this happen to the 

currently productive Kenyan Highlands?  Those who are poor and hungry 

will often cut forests, overgraze grasslands, overuse marginal land, and 

crowd into already congested cities.  This cycle must be interrupted for 

any policy to be effective.

        Predictions for the future are varied.  Some, including Peter 

Kimm, assert that within 10 years most of the poor will live in urban 

areas (3).  The predicament of cities such as Nairobi cannot be 

overlooked.  An easy solution to the problem of population growth and 

environmental problems would be to heavily regulate industry in cities, 

and generally make living in cities more difficult so that people will 

remain in rural areas.  However, cities currently contribute over half of 

the gross domestic product of developing countries and by the year 2000 

it is predicted that they will contribute over two-thirds (Kimm 4).  

Without the economic development provided by cities, countries such as 

Kenya have little hope of developing, which is usually the precursor to 

lower population growth rates.

        Growth of economically productive employment must be stimulated 

so that cities may absorb an expanding labor force.  The agricultural 

sector does not provide a solution to the employment problem, as the 

agricultural land in Kenya is already being subdivided into plots too 

small to support a family adequately (Lewis 142).  Employment must be 

increased, however, such that industry does not over-exploit natural 

resources and create intolerable amounts of pollution.  A process called 

"technological leap-frogging" may be a means to accomplish this.  

Leap-frogging involves  transfers of cleaner, more efficient technology 

from developed nations to countries like Kenya trying to grow 


        Some suggest, however, that it is prohibitively expensive to 

create a significant number of new jobs in the capital intensive 

industrial sector (Lewis 142).  They assert that the basic need is to 

encourage growth of smaller secondary urban areas.  Smaller urban areas 

may address the need to foster backwards and forwards linkages with 

agriculture, and would provide readily accessible marketplaces for 

farmers (Lewis 143).   If this strategy is pursued, the need for sanitary 

water supplies, sanitation systems, control of rain-water run-off, 

streets, and other infrastructure issues become critical (Lewis 146).  

However, the major difficulty with this strategy is that to decentralize, 

the central government must be willing to decentralize, and hence give up 

some of their power, which may be unlikely.

        Kenya's government is moving in the right direction in terms of 

its philosophy for development.  Its policies with respect to the 

preservation of the environment are based on the premise that prevention 

of harmful effects is less costly than their subsequent correction.  The 

policies emphasize that environmental considerations must be incorporated 

at the planning stage of development projects.  However, either through 

lack of political clout or necessary machinery for monitoring and 

surveillance, there is often no follow-up observation of the impact of 

rural development schemes (Darkoh 1993, 71).  Improving monitoring and 

enforcement of existing policies can not only improve environmental 

conditions, but also provide formal sector employment for so many urban 

dwellers that are in need of income.

        It seems that, from examining all the evidence presented here, 

that there are two ways of looking at urban growth and the environment in 

Kenya.  One school of thought asserts that increased urbanization is a 

good thing for environmental quality in Kenya.  In this scenario, 

urban-rural migration has a dampening effect on total population growth, 

therefore reducing pressures on the environment.  As population grows, 

rural poverty pushes people to urban areas.  During this migration, 

people tend to acquire more education (either before migrating or after 

they reach the city).  This higher education level leads to a desire for 

smaller families, thus reducing the rate of population growth.

        The other theory is that urban migration is a positive feedback 

to population growth, and therefore increases pressure on the 

environment.  Once again, as population increases people migrate to urban 

areas,  Because of the increased proportion of people in urban areas, 

greater pressure is placed on the rural environment to provide goods and 

services for these new urban dwellers.  The new demand for production in 

rural areas will thus reinforce the need for large families there. The  

cycle of unmanageable population growth is thus perpetuated.

        This author tends to agree with the former theory of urban 

growth, in that the rate of growth of cities is occurring too quickly, 

without the jobs for migrants and the agricultural surplus to support 

it.  Of course, some policies are in order to improve conditions in urban 

areas, but not to the point of increasing the pushes to these areas from 

the rural lands.  For example, efforts to reduce urban poverty, including 

increasing formal sector and industrial employment, will increase incomes 

for urban families and encourage the view of children as an economic 

liability.  Technological leap-frogging is a viable option for Kenya, 

soliciting help from nations such as the U.S. in adopting more advanced 

technologies for production that are less polluting than those that would 

normally be adopted in the course of development.

        These policies will not reduce environmental degradation alone.  

Rural areas must also be targeted for increased income generating 

opportunities and improved services so that people won't have such a 

strong incentive to flee to the cities.  Better education and access to 

health care are essential in rural areas.  Opportunities for women to 

earn income are also crucial to not only improving conditions in rural 

areas but to reducing the desire for large families (i.e.-increasing the 

opportunity cost of women's time).  These activities could include 

working in health care, teaching, and selling hand-made goods.  The 

establishment of smaller urban centers will help in this endeavor, 

allowing more agricultural distribution areas (also a place where women 

could work) and places to sell wares.  By keeping activities 

decentralized, pushes from rural areas can be decreased, influx to large 

urban centers like Nairobi can be slowed, and population pressures can be 


        As we can see, population growth, urban growth and the condition 

of the natural environment are intricately entwined.  As countries such 

as Kenya develop, urban populations are bound to increase.  Our job as 

policy makers is to see that the pace of this urban growth is manageable, 

that migrants can earn a living and that both urban and rural 

environments can be sustained.