Governments everywhere are concerned with the rapidly changing spatial distribution and growth of their populations, as people move to take advantage of different opportunities or are forced out of traditional occupations or places of residence by changing conditions. Research into areas such as connections between population growth and development is still at its early stages. The relevance of this research for policy makers is not always clear because of the nature of macro and micro research into population growth. If there is one aspect of population study that developing–as well as developed–nations reach agreement it is their frustration with the distribution of population. In the United Nations’ Tenth Population Enquiry among Governments conducted in 1994, only six delegations declared the spatial distribution of their population to be ‘acceptable’ whereas forth-two voted that it was ‘unacceptable to some extent’, and sixty-eight declared it to be ‘highly unacceptable’. Furthermore, two-thirds of the countries wanted to slow the rate of rural-urban migration, and a further 12 per cent wanted to reverse it.

Although we have a fairly clear picture of recent trends in population growth in most of the countries in Southeast Asia the picture is based primarily on data collected in censuses and surveys on long-term movement across boundaries. Population distribution–or mobility–is also closely related to the population growth of any nation. Table 1 shows three major objectives that predominate the Southeast Asian region. First, the reversal of rural-to-urban migration trends is obviously the most common goal among all the countries. The second major objective is to change rural population distribution; in many cases governments would do this through colonization or possibly resettlement schemes. The third objective, altering urban configuration, which was adopted by five nations, is usually done through controlling primate city growth and development of small and intermediate-size cities.

Taking a look at Table 2, a more detailed analysis of the goals of some Southeast Asia nations, it is apparent that it reflects differences in national size. Some of them have adopted several goals involving the modifying of both migration trends and aspects of rural and urban settlement patterns. Individual nations have adopted various plain policy programs and instruments in response to perceived problems of migration.

There are various programs with a primary goal of affecting population growth and development programs that include population redistribution as at least a secondary goal. First of all, “closed city” programs which are designed to limit metropolitan growth by stopping or slowing down in-migration. Secondly, rustication programs, designed to resettle urban residents in rural areas. Thirdly there are programs designed to accommodate metropolitan growth by improving urban habitat. There are many such programs; two with clear distribution implications are programs to improve housing and living conditions, in particular in slum and shanty settlements, and programs aimed at increasing urban efficiency by decentralizing growth in metropolitan areas through promotion of satellite cities and commuting. A fourth program is aimed at regional dispersion of urban growth through expansion of intermediate-size cities and regional centers. By using the various programs mentioned above, and trying to adapt them to their policies on population growth and/or redistribution, governments hope to solve their everlasting problems with population control.