Focus: Urbanization

Living For the City

May. 18, 2016

Like most countries in the world, Kazakhstan is seeing an increasing migration of citizens from rural areas and villages to larger cities. The time is now for Almaty to implement measures that will ensure sustainable population growth.

Despite having the largest landmass, Kazakhstan is the most urbanized country in Central Asia. Kazakhstan's urbanization rate is about 55%, and the country is home to 87 cities. At present, there are high rates of urbanization in Astana, Almaty, and the greater Almaty region. As Kazakh citizens increasingly migrate from villages and smaller towns to metropolitan areas, it is estimated that by 2030 some 66% of the population will live in urban areas. Thus, urbanization will increase by just over 10% over the next over the next 15 years, which, in turn, will increase the burden on the social sphere of the country.

History clearly shows that the primary achievements of civilization are associated with urbanization. The development of cities promotes the welfare of society, the development of culture, and the variety of social life. The level of urbanization, as measured by the percentage of urban population to the total population, is particularly high in developed countries and much lower in countries with low per-capita income.

A wide majority, some 70%, of Kazakhstan's population is expected to be living in cities by 2050. Today, that portion stands at 54.7%. The trend of migration from rural areas to metropolitan cities is a worldwide trend, and Kazakhstan is no exception. Rural dwellers are increasingly moving to larger cities, where they are offered a wider variety in choosing a place of residence and employment. Cities also provide also provide greater and superior options in terms of education, medicine, and culture. The time is now for the country to begin implementing measures that will make this increasing urbanization smooth and relatively problem free.
Despite the benefits of urbanization, the majority of the country's rural and indigenous populations continue to be among the underprivileged of society. The urbanization process in Kazakhstan has been controversial and is connected primarily with migration. Internal displacement in Kazakhstan in recent years has become spontaneous and chaotic. According to data from the state Statistics Agency, more than 25,000 Kazakhs left the countryside for major cities in just the first half of 2014 alone. This exodus has been the worst in the South Kazakhstan region, which saw 6,400 people emigrate in 2014. The regions of Zhambyl, East Kazakhstan, Mangistau, Kostanai, and North Kazakhstan each saw reductions in rural population ranging from 2,800 to 2,200 people. Also in the first half of 2014, migration inflow to cities reached 22,900, with the lion's share of migrants falling on Astana, which received 10,900, and Almaty, which saw an additional 6,900 residents. Naturally, the major Kazakh cities aren't equipped to accommodate such a large and rapid influx of migrants. Thus this urbanization has had a number of negative side effects, such as a lack of affordable housing, unemployment, difficulties with registration, and adverse environmental effects, which have all contributed to the deterioration of the health of the urban population. Measures such as the formation of clusters that create a wide range of jobs provided by low costs of living and high quality of life, introducing gentle or even canceling local tax, providing tax breaks for business and interfering less, along with the creation of a favorable investment climate, will ensure the prosperity of cities that are poised to become key factors in ensuring the sustainable development of the regions and, in general, the country.

The demographic situation has stabilized. In all regions, the country's population is growing, from the villages to the district centers, from the countryside to the administrative centers, the population is moving to major cities such as Astana and Almaty. Fortunately for Kazakhstan, the increasing the flow of people through the coming decades will not be explosive, but gradual and smooth.