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Editorial comment

It is a fact often repeated that the global population is becoming increasingly urban. Whether this urban migration is related to the environmental impact of climate change (floods, droughts, crop failure, etc.) or to the greater employment opportunities that cities can offer, the end result is the same: more people occupying more or less the same amount of space.

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The Financial Times recently produced a special publication called ‘New Demographics’ in light of the fact that the global population is about to hit 7 billion, just 13 years after it reached 6 billion. The publication describes how, at our current rate of growth, we could expect a global population of 26.8 billion by 2100. Of course, that’s simply not sustainable. Where would we put them? What would they eat? How would we cope with the sizeable amounts of waste they would produce? (Some ideas on this one, starting on p. 80 of this issue.) Meanwhile, we have reached the point where half of the world’s population lives in cities. Housing all of these new urbanites would ideally require 50 developments the size of London. You’ve probably heard about all those new London-sized metropolises being built around the world…No? No, well that’s because the majority of these urban migrants take up residence in ‘temporary housing’ on the periphery of cities. Currently, more than 1 billion people worldwide live in slums. The UN predicts this figure could reach 2 billion by 2030.

When it comes to population growth and urban migration, India is a case in point. By 2030, it is expected that India’s population will surpass China’s. At that point, India will account for 20% of humanity, but only 3% of the world’s landmass. Already half the population of Mumbai lives in slums and urbanisation is at 31%. One of India’s greatest selling points is its youthful population, which will have a median age of 28 in 2020 (compared with the problematic median age of 49 in Japan). This provides India with a viable workforce going forward to power its booming economy and support its older citizens. However, these young people require looking after: education, health care, housing, etc. must all be available if this workforce is to thrive, and all of these things require a sufficiently developed infrastructure. Although the cement industry has considerable capacity, and is poised to act, a report from consultancy McKinsey highlights bottlenecks to infrastructure investment that are hampering development in India, namely: the government must develop adequate tenders, those tenders must be picked up by developers who can actually see them through, and then the projects must be completed on time and on budget. And budget is a key factor – India is looking at a deficit of US$150 – 190 billion in financing core infrastructure projects.

Providing an affordable and sustainable housing solution for the world’s urban and rural poor is certainly a priority, and what is more affordable and sustainable than cement? Designs that incorporate environmentally friendly elements, such as solar panels, water and waste management and efficient insulation are particularly needed. In Tokyo, where space is severely limited, pod housing has become increasingly popular. It would be nice to think that, as space runs out in the world’s big cities, slums could be replaced with modular housing developments that offer shelter in sanitary conditions at an affordable price. Put your heads together, people. Whoever provides the housing solution for the 2 billion scheduled for slum living by 2030 will be in for big business – and possibly some kind of Nobel prize.