Urban, Rural, and Regional Populations

Peru Table of Contents

The change in distribution from rural to urban has been profound: the urban population rose from 47 percent in 1961 to an estimated 70 percent in 1990. By that time, Peru's population had reached a point where its configurations were thus substantially different than they were a generation earlier, largely because of the enormous growth of metropolitan Lima, which includes the seaport of Callao. Indeed, four of the largest political districts of greater Lima began as squatter settlements and now would rank among the nation's top ten cities if they had been counted separately. The leading cities in Peru represent a mix of old colonial places--Lima, Arequipa, Trujillo, Cusco (Cuzco), Piura, and Ica--and newly emergent ones, such as Huancayo, Chimbote, Iquitos, and Juliaca, whose new elites derive mostly from the highly mobile provincial middle and lower classes. In the Sierra, Juliaca, because of its role in marketing and transportation, surpassed the departmental capital of Puno in both size and importance to become the most important city south of Cusco.

Burgeoning cities, such as the industrial port of Chimbote, had a kind of raw quality to them in the early 1990s, with blocks and blocks of recently constructed one- and two-story buildings and a majority of streets neither paved nor cobbled. As the site of Peru's prestige industry--an electrically powered steel mill-- and as a major port for the anchovy industry, Chimbote attracted bilingual mestizos and cholos, who continued to pour into the city from the highlands of Ancash, especially the provinces of Huaylas, Corongo, Pallasca, and Sihuas. The migrants' dynamism, powered by a will to progress and modernize, built the city from a quaint seaside town of 4,200 residents in 1940 to 296,000 in 1990, with neither the approval nor significant assistance of government planners or development programs. Although the energy and growth of Chimbote was impressive, the lack of urban infrastructure in the basic services, absence of attention to environmental impacts, and totally inadequate municipal budgets led directly to converting Chimbote Bay, the best natural port on Peru's coast, into a cesspool of industrial and urban wastes (meters thick in places). Even smaller coastal boom towns, such as Supe, have suffered the same outcomes. It was not surprising that the 1991 cholera outbreak should have started in Chimbote.

Just as the cities have grown, the rural sector's share of the population has declined. Nevertheless, in the early 1990s there were still more persons living in the rural regions than ever before in the nation's history. In fact, the rural population in 1991 equaled the total population of the country in 1961.

At first, the country seemed to relish its growth even though the population explosion distressed the urbane sensibilities of the elite and the comfortable middle classes. Through its increase in size, Peru gained stature internationally and maintained a superiority of sorts vis--vis Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile, its regional rivals. It could be maintained that Peru's policy was to let the population problem "solve itself" through spontaneous migration by which people found their own solutions for the maldistribution of wealth, services, resources, and power. The vast and growing squatter settlements in Lima, however, gave many serious pause, and alternatives were proposed.

More about the Population of Peru.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress