Urban-to-rural migration

Most geography students will have studied rural-to-urban migration. This is the key process contributing to the world’s urbanization. Now in Haiti this pathway is being reversed. In the aftermath of its devastating earthquake, many Haitians who can do so have gone rural, leaving the city behind (at least for now) and starting up in the countryside they once left to make a new life in Port-au-Prince. The New York Times tells the story of some of these urban-to-rural migrants here and has a beautiful slideshow here.

A broader lesson from this story is what it tells us about the importance of rural areas as a form of a global social safety net for the urban poor, the disenfranchised, the desperate workers and indeed would-be workers living in what Mike Davis has called our “planet of slums”. But as anthropologist Jan Breman points out in an article in a recent issue of New Left Review (a must-read publication for geography students), the scope for rural areas to absorb returnees from the city is severely limited. So the rural poor move to the city and become urban poor and then return to their villages and become rural poor again. They are the “boomerang poor”, moving from countryside to city and to countryside again in the hope that someone or some firm somewhere will find a need for their labour-power.

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