Security Implications of Hyper- Urbanisation & Youth Bulge in Developing World

The traditional view of security has been expanding ever since the cold war started seeing an emergence of non-traditional security implications for nation-states. Hyper-Urbanisation is perceived as a non-traditional security concern. Its scope of threat however, is not limited to the non-traditional paradigm but rather poses a threat to traditional security dynamics as well.[i]

Hyper-Urbanisation occurs majorly in the ‘megacities’ of the developing world. In a hyper-urban scenario, the state infrastructure often fails to cope with the large intake of residents.  People residing in these hyper-urban cities lack resources and access to jobs. Rather than a push towards betterment and progression (usually the case of development under urbanisation), hyper-urbanisation has resulted in slum settlement, pollution, human rights violations etc. Hence, not all urbanisation is positive, especially if it is unplanned[ii]

Youth Bulge on other hand is concerned with a ‘demographic period’ in which the proportion of the youth in the population increases significantly compared to other age groups, both older and younger. Youth bulge has often contributed to the social upheaval along with political violence in various countries.

To investigate into the severity of the security implications the paper dwells into  the complexity of the “Hyper-Urban” developing world in relation with its growing “Youth Bulge”.

Trends of Hyper-urban world

Presently more than half of the world’s population is urban, suggests World urbanisation report. In Africa and Asia[iii] nearly 2.5 billion people will be added to this urban population by 2050.  The growth chart of urbanisation in the developed countries shows a linear projection where as the growth in the developing and the less developed regions the growth has been abrupt pointing towards a hyper-urban trend . The graph from UNDP report below is a depiction of the variations in the trends of growth of urbanisation across the globe.

Fig1.Source: Urban Population Growth(thousands): 1950-2050, Statistics Compiled by Robert Muggah from
 reported in Researching in Urban Dilemma: Urbanisation, Poverty and Violence

Security Implications

In order to understand the  security implications of Hyper-urbanisation, it is important to understand the reasons behind the absence of these under Urbanisation.  Firstly, migrants coming from villages got a better living conditions in urban-slums which were better than their rural lifestyle and accommodations. Secondly, most of the migrants carried with themselves their rural values of social deference and political passivity that militated against their political consciousness preventing any such outrage.

Thirdly, the immigrants were largely pre-occupied with immediate benefits like food and shelter that they received in urban-slums and did not really bother for other human needs. Fourthly and lastly, most migrants live under feelings of mutual distrust and antagonism, that makes political organisation of the common articulation of grievances problematic.

Hyper-urban “mushrooming cities” of the developing world, by reference to their apparent “overnight” appearance and  continuous expansion have shown a different trajectory. It  provides the migrants with conditions that surpasses the squalor and hopelessness they had fled.

In fact, urban-guerrillas are benefitting from the hyper-urban cityscape as did the traditional guerrillas on the rural-front.  They have been  enjoying the control over the territory, the allegiance (whether voluntary or coerced) of a considerable part of a country’s population, inaccessibility to security forces, and a reasonably secure base for operations and commercial infrastructure just like traditional guerrilla.

Cities, which were once the culmination of the revolution, the proliferation of hyper-urbanization – and the inability of governments to defend them all- has made cities relatively simple targets. Insurgents groups can disrupt energy and telecommunication facilities, demonstrate the inability of government to protect its people and recruit among the disaffected population. Moreover they also manage to attract media coverage and international attention that would be unobtainable in the tortuously travelled jungles or isolated mountains of these countries[i].  In other words we can say that rural based insurgencies are finding cities as lucrative target.

The situation is even worse for the countries experiencing youth bulge along with hyper-urbanization. Youth bulges at the level of 35% of the total adult population run a risk of armed conflict which is 150% estimates Henrik Urdal [ii]. Hence bigger the youth bulge, higher is the risk of political violence. Aleppo, Mosul, Sana’s Mogadishu, Gaza etc are but a few examples of a growing trend in global violence where the world’s most violent conflicts are being fought in cities with high youth population.

Two contemporary examples to substantiate how youth bulge and hyper-urbanisation in a highly unsatisfied society often leads to crisis are given in the box below.

Case of Sierra Leone: Youth Bulge Paul Richards (1996, 1998 with Krijin Peters) argues that conflict in Sierra Leone was the violent manifestation of a rational expression of a ?youth crisis?. Young people in Sierra Leone reacted to exclusionary neo-patrimonial practices and state decay in the form of armed rebellion. Far from being mindless or random, youth violence resulted from the alienation of young people because of failures in the educational system, a dearth of employment opportunities and the negative attitudes and practices of elders – it was ?a plea for attention from those who felt they have been forgotten.   North African Case of Nigeria: Hyper-Urbanisation Insurgent urban militant groups like Boko-Haram and Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) in Nigerian cities are using terror in order to lure the attention of the government years long neglect, economic exploitation and political repression of the great mass of people living in poverty in the suburbs and slums of the cities. Hence, the poor, the unemployed, the ‘Almajiris’ and the low-income peasants who constitute a greater percentage of the membership of these urban militant groups use dramatic series of terror attacks against government officials, institutions as well as selected public places to make the cities ungovernable so as to pressure the government to dismantle the repressive economic policies and reforms that geometrically promote poverty and not development in African cities.”[iii]


For contribution to the industrial growth and poverty reduction, urbanisation is seen as a positive phenomenon in all its forms. Yet, when urban governance, security, and public services do no keep pace with rapid growth in population, it increases opportunities for non-state actors to “compete politically and challenge the government militarily”[iv]. The combination of urban poverty, high density of population, dwindling resources, and poor governance therefore leaves hyper-urban cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Nairobi, Cairo, Lahore, Dhaka, and Kinshasa, susceptible to ingrown political and social disturbance, criminal violence, and terror attacks.

Development alone cannot be a solution for the challenges posed by hyper-urbanisation in the present security dynamics of developing world. Developing world needs to take multi-dimensional actions and develop a comprehensive strategy to handle any such security issue related to hyper-urbanisation and youth bulge.

Anjali Gupta. Research Intern at the Centre for Internal and Regional Security Studies,  IPCS (Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies)


[i] Jennifer Morrison Taw & Bruce Hoffman The Urbanisation of Insurgency: The Potential Challenge to U.S. Army Operations 28p.


[iv] Patel, Ronak B, And Frederick M Burkle, Rapid Urbanisation and the growing threat of violence and conflict: A 21st Century Crisis

[i] For many years, the security matters have been restricted to security institutions and have carried on, considering the fact that such institutions could provide security and guarantee life and property of the country. The classical realist approach derives the view on security from Cold war Era. In the cold war era, security was viewed as primarily the possession of strong defence power to safeguard law and order in the society. Non-traditional security issues started emerging at the end of Cold war, resulting in broadening and deepening of our understanding of security threat or challenge.

[ii]ThangavelPalanivel, Rapid Urbanisation: Opportunities and Challenges to improve the wellbeing of Societies, HDR, UNDP

[iii] 55% of urban population projected by UN, Department of Economic and Social Affairs in 2018 revision of World Urbanisation Prospects Report