Monday, February 28, 2005

Bombay's people problem

Having come back from Mumbai (Bombay, as most people I met there like to call it), I'm still in awe of the sheer numbers. I'd been there before, but somehow this time the numbers really hit me. I'm reminded of two great descriptions of Mumbai's population issue, in no particular order, first from deeshaa.

Numbers. That is reason number one for my discomfort with the city. Metropolitan Mumbai has about 12 million to call its own. There are European countries with fewer people than Mumbai. Indeed, about 60 percent of Mumbai's population lives in an estimated 37,000 slums. That is, 7.5 million people live in Mumbai slums, about one and a half times the population of Finland. Finland, a country that I have a very soft corner for, has around 5 million people living in about 384,000 square kilometers. Mumbai's 7.5 million people are not as fortunate; Slum dwellers occupy only 14 percent of the residential land in Mumbai, which I estimate amounts to about 140 sq. km. Imagine that: a piece of land about 12 kilometer square and then pack one and a half times the population of Finland into it.

I find it absolutely unbelievable. There are more people living in slums in Mumbai than there are people in Finland. A rough calculation leads me to figure that the population density of Mumbai slums is about 500 30,000 times that of Finland. And the income of a Finn is perhaps about 100 times that of a Mumbai slum dweller.

The next bit is from Suketu Mehta's Maximum City.

Greater Bombay's population, currently 19 million, is bigger than that of 173 countries in the world. If it were a country by itself, it would rank at number 54. Cities should be examined like countries...

India is not an overpopulated country. Its population density is lower than that of many other countries that are not thought of as overpopulated... It is the cities of India that are overpopulated. Singapore has a density of 2,535 people per square mile; Berlin, the most crowded European city, has 1,130 people per square mile. The island city of Bombay in 1990 had a density of 17,550 people per square mile. Some parts of central Bombay have a population density of 1 million people per square mile. This is the highest number of individuals massed together in any spot in the world. They are not equally dispersed across the island. Two-thirds of the city's residents are crowded into just 5 percent of the total area, while the richer or more rent-protected one third monopolize the remaining 95 percent.
It is unbelievable that people will put up with such miserable conditions, especially in an area of the world where it gets so hot. It is a testament to just how bad things are in the countryside that anyone would choose to live in Bombay...

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