2.3.12 Settlement Patterns and Population Mobility

12.1. Urbanization and Changes in Regional Population Distribution

Facts/messages: Taking a proactive view towards inevitable and massive urban growth is crucial. History has demonstrated the futility of policies aimed at preventing rural-urban migration or retarding urban growth. Policymakers need to be convinced of this and of the need to plan ahead for it. The positive relation between urbanization and social, economic and ecological processes should be highlighted in policy dialogue. Two issues stand out: promoting the sustainable use of space in planning the territorial expansion of the city and planning for the land and housing needs of the largest social category – the poor. Population studies can make important contributions in both domains, as explained in UNFPA’s 2007 SWOP.

Urbanization will be one of the main demographic processes of the coming decades, particularly in those regions that are still largely rural. In 2008, the world passed the 50% urbanization mark. From 2018 on, urban population growth in the world as a whole will exceed total population growth, as rural areas will start losing population in absolute terms. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the urban population will increase from 324 million in 2010 to 730 million in 2035. During the same period, China’s degree of urbanization is expected to increase from 45% to 64%. Analyze advances in the urbanization process and compare it with other countries in the region. Highlight its relationship with economic and social progress. Show moreover that behind the urban percentage exists a texture for the urban system that is comparatively extensive, with various nodes, or a large capital city and a number of small towns, i.e. illustrate the density of the urban system. Finally, describe the distribution of the population throughout the national territory, and in particular regional reallocations resulting from migration, and their relationships with policies and productive transformations. If possible, describe the country’s policies with respect to urban growth and population distribution.

Methodology: Use indicators such as land area, urban settlements, urban and rural population in total and as a percentage of the total population, urban and rural annual growth rates and the absolute increase (or decrease) of the urban and rural populations in a recent period (last 10 years), density, the percentage (of the total and urban population) in cities with 20 thousand inhabitants or more, percentage (of the total and urban population) in cities of 1 million or more inhabitants, percentage (of the total and urban population) in cities of intermediate size (in principle between 100 thousand and 1 million inhabitants, but this can be modified according to the country), primacy index of the urban system (out of 3 and out of 11 cities), relative distribution of the population by major political and administrative divisions (MPAD) (consider map-based presentation). In this chapter, include studies on social capital, social networks, etc.

Primary Sources:

  • National population and housing censuses;
  • Estimates and projections from national sources.

Secondary Sources:


12.2. Internal Migration

Facts/messages: UNDP estimates that in 2009 globally 740 million people (one in eight) were living within their home country but outside their region of birth. Historically, population mobility, internal and international migration tended to be (unless they were forced) one of the strategies used by individuals and families to escape from poverty, armed conflicts, or the consequences of natural disasters and to look for new opportunities for employment, salaries, training, education and even marriage chances.

Yet, migration can also undermine the process of personal development, either because those who move are responsible for it (e.g. emigration of parents), because settlement at the destination is unsuccessful, or because those individuals who stay behind must contend with a loss of (often skilled) human resources.

The dynamics of internal mobility are linked to several public policies, regarding regional distribution, urban and rural development, housing, transportation, and infrastructure, productive transformations and specific programmes aimed at influencing both migration intensity and patterns.

Show the profile of internal migrants, those that have specific characteristics in terms of sex, age, education, social strata, etc. Here it is important to highlight the particular features of the process in the country and to challenge myths with regard to the identity of internal migrants. There are some widespread differences in the intensity of migration and in the ages at which it occurs, with Asia generally displaying lower mobility and sharp peaks at early ages, whereas Latin America and the developed countries display higher mobility and a flatter age profile with a peak at older ages. High mobility is commonly offset by corresponding counter-flows but redistribution through internal migration is substantial in some countries, especially when computed as a lifetime measure. Time series comparisons show five-year migration intensities falling in most countries (China being a notable exception), although lifetime data show more widespread rises due to age-structure effects. One should also analyze the origins and destinations of migrants: rural-rural migration, urban-urban, rural-urban migration, towards small cities or metropoli, towards major development projects, return migration, etc.

Methodology: Very limited data exist with respect to internal migration due to the difficulty to measure and to conceptualize. Consider matrices of origin and destination, as well as indicators on migration flows. Censuses usually allow the computation of these matrices in terms of MPADs, but more rarely in terms of minor geographical divisions (e.g. municipalities) and rural/urbean areas of residence. Consider classical indicators such as flows, stocks and rates to exploit the matrices of origin and destination. If the latter do not exist (e.g. for urban and rural areas of residence), use residual methods in order to compute at least net migration measures. Create multivariate tabulations to estimate the selectivity and the conditional probabilities of being a migrant. Indicators regarding the volume of migration by type (urban-rural), migration balance and net migration by MPAD; if necessary, migratory exchanges between cities or between different surrounding areas and the main city (consider the use of map-based presentations). For internal migrants, use indicators such as: averages of age and education, distribution by sex (compared with non-migrants), average years of education by age and sex (compared with non-migrants).

Primary Source:

  • National censuses. For country-city migration direct estimates of censuses and surveys when they ask the question, otherwise use indirect estimates with census data.

Secondary Sources:

12.3. Emergency Situations: Natural Disasters, Armed Conflicts, Displacement

Facts/messages: A state of emergency exists when there is a threat to the life and the well-being of a considerable number of inhabitants. This definition includes both natural crises and armed conflicts. In many cases these situations result in humanitarian crises which have implications for population-related issues. For example, forced migration resulting from civil conflicts affects major population groups. Although men participate more often in these kinds of conflicts, the participation of women and children has increased. At the same time, in many places in the world that suffer from these kinds of situations, it is women and children that form the bulk of displaced groups. When they experience conflict situations and men leave their homes, the surviving women and the victims of displacements find themselves in greater difficulties because they are not only experiencing displacement, but also especially traumatic upheavals and drastic changes in domestic family life, social roles and in gender relationships, with an increase in the number of abandoned children and of child and female-headed households, as well as in all other social dimensions. In general, states of emergency tend to increase the participation of women in the labour market and the workload of female-headed families. Older persons are also vulnerable in emergency situations, such as natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies, because they may be isolated from family and friends, less able to move quickly, and less able to find food and shelter.

Highlight the consequences of emergency situations for the population, mainly in terms of migration, shifts in family structure, the labour market and gender dynamics. Other issues that should be pointed out in relation to situations of this kind have to do with the proliferation of informal settlements, reduction in life expectancy, especially for men; mortality levels due to violence and its differential by sex; and changes in nuptiality, such as the interruption of marriages. A state of emergency also takes its toll on the SRH of the population, especially women. Sexual violence, especially, its use as a weapon of war and intimidation, STIs and HIV-AIDS, and maternal mortality are problems that are exacerbated during a crisis situation. With the disruption of health programmes, destruction of health facilities and flight or death of health personnel, there is reduced access to health care at a time when it is most needed. Highlight the incidence levels of these problems in these kinds of contexts and the extent to which they have increased due to the situation, whether of armed conflict or natural disaster.

Methodology: In appropriate cases, to the extent possible, one should obtain indicators that offer information and a general analysis of the state of emergency, as well as its impact on population and SRH issues. For this, conduct a desk review of surveys, study, and a rapid needs assessment and/or enumeration and profiling to determine the scale of the crisis. Estimate the number of displaced persons and refugees, and determine their socio-demographic profile and situation with regard to matters of SRH. For this purpose, data for gender and vulnerability analysis is necessary. Provide information about SRH care services in this population, as well as their location, housing and living conditions, immediate needs, aspirations, fears, duration of displacement etc. Basic demographic information is useful during emergencies to determine how to reach the affected population and how to satisfy their most urgent needs. These include initial needs assessments, sectoral surveys, rapid surveys, IDP profiling and adapted versions of conventional surveys and censuses. However, emergency situations often lead to a redistribution of the population and to a change in their structure and composition and hence render existing databases obsolete. Registration, routine service data collection and other administrative sources are also crucial. Describe the main causes of the crisis and opportunities for humanitarian help.

Primary Sources:

  • Surveys analyzed at the sub-national level in the conflict areas and areas that have displaced persons. Surveys cover domains such as household consumption, household living conditions and poverty (LSMS, CWIQ, MICS, etc.), agriculture and food production, nutrition (DHS), fertility behavior and other RH dimensions (DHS, MICS, CWIQ), migration, labor force, employment and time allocation, informal sector activities, gender, infant mortality, etc.;
  • Specific studies on these issues or national information systems taking account of displacement at various geographical levels, for instance the National Secretariat of Social Pastoral Care in Colombia;
  • Population censuses and projections for determining population size and spatial distribution by administrative unit and locality, Age-sex structure of the population for identification of various categories, especially the vulnerable groups etc.;
  • Use census mapping and administrative sources for the identification of location and other details on the basic social infrastructure;
  • The GIS is a means of capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information;
  • Population projections provide an estimate of the expected population at various periods in the future (and the past);
  • Administrative sources provide information on educational statistics, information on staff, civil status registration, health management information systems, passenger and other transportation data, etc. Information may also relate to infrastructure details, such as roads and other communication lines, community centers, schools, health facilities, storage facilities, etc.

Secondary Sources:

  • UNHCR. Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons;
  • For regional statistics visit regional web site, such as http://www.unhcr.org/americas/.


  • UNFPA (2010). Guidelines on Data Issues in Humanitarian Crisis Situations;
  • African Development Bank and UNFPA (2005). Training Module on Integration of Population Issues into African Development Bank programmes and projects. Module 2, Session 3 on Emergency Situations;
  • Division of Reproductive Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Reproductive Health Assessment Toolkit for Conflict-Affected Women. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ReproductiveHealth/Refugee/ToolkitDownload.htm. This toolkit can be used to quantitatively assess reproductive health risks, services, and outcomes in conflict-affected women between the ages of 15 and 49 years old. It provides data to inform programme planning, monitoring, evaluation and advocacy.

62  UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2001). “Early marriage child spouses”. Digest No. 7.
63  UNDP (2009). Human Development Research Paper.2009/30 Cross-National Comparisons of Internal Migration.
64  Methodology for indirect estimates ECLAC / CELADE. Rodríguez, Jorge. (2004). Migración interna en América Latina y el Caribe: estudio regional del período 1980–2000, II Nº 50 (LC/L.2059–P), Santiago de Chile. Publicación de las Naciones Unidas, Nº de venta: S.04.II.G.3. Rodríguez, Jorge. (2004). Explotando el módulo sobre migración interna de los censos de población y vivienda de América Latina, REDATAM informa, Nº 10 (LC/ L.2261), Santiago de Chile.
65  UNFPA (2010). Guidelines on Data Issues in Humanitarian Crisis Situations.
66  Ibidem.