Briefing Note: Urbanisation-Construction-Migration Nexus in Five Cities in South Asia


This briefing outlines a research project on the urbanisation-construction-migration nexus in five cities in South Asia: Kabul (Afghanistan), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Chennai (India), Kathmandu (Nepal) and Lahore (Pakistan). The project addresses the question “How do investments in large-scale urban construction, and the demand for labour generated, give rise to varied forms of migration?” by: (i) linking the growing power of urban consumption and investment with (ii) the demand for rural migrant contract construction labour (transient migrants) via (iii) large-scale urban construction projects (residential, commercial, industrial and infrastructure).

“Transient contract migration” is migration to join a workforce (as distinct from traditional forms of migration in search of work). The use of such labour in large-scale urban construction will increase as many rural livelihoods are increasingly untenable and alternative income opportunities are elusive.

These workers are confronted with several trade-offs: living in low-quality “gated” camps with very poor services (especially problematic for women and children); forgoing opportunities for collective action; being indebted to labour-contractors through monetary advances and withholding of wages during periods of absence; and accepting pay below the minimum wage. Housing these workers in “gated” labour camps with variable freedoms to move in and out makes this labour force invisible and hard to reach. This raises complex challenges for policy makers and activists seeking to address deprivation in the economic, social and political spheres. It also has implications for the possibilities of workers to organise collectively.

Of equal importance is the impact that large-scale urban construction has on rural and urban landscapes. Unfettered investment in urban real estate and infrastructure and the accompanying industrial appetite for resources are accelerating processes of enclosure and “dispossession” in the urban-periphery, as well as in the distant rural hinterlands.

This briefing summarises the core concepts underlying the project and highlights its key primary findings and their associated policy issues.


Kumar, S.; Fernandez, M. Briefing Note: Urbanisation-Construction-Migration Nexus in Five Cities in South Asia. LSE Enterprise, London, UK (2015) 7 pp.

Published 1 January 2015