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Speed, scale of urban growth will require 'revolution in thinking', warns UNFPA

Asian, African Cities to Swell by Equivalent of one China, One U.S. Combined


UNITED NATIONS, New York, 27 June 2007—Humanity will have to undergo a “revolution in thinking” in order to deal with the doubling of urban populations in Africa and Asia by 2030, warns UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. In a new report released today, The State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth, the organization maintains that over 30 years, the population of African and Asian cities will double, adding 1.7 billion people—more than the populations of China and the United States combined.

“What happens in the cities of Africa and Asia and other regions will shape our common future,” says UNFPA Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. “We must abandon a mindset that resists urbanization and act now to begin a concerted global effort to help cities unleash their potential to spur economic growth and solve social problems.”


To take advantage of potential opportunities, governments must prepare for the coming growth. “If they wait, it will be too late,” she says. “This wave of urbanization is without precedent. The changes are too large and too fast to allow planners and policymakers simply to react: In Africa and Asia, the number of people living in cities increases by approximately 1 million, on average, each week. Leaders need to be proactive and take far-sighted action to fully exploit the opportunities that urbanization offers.”


According to the report, as of 2008, more than half the world’s current 6.7 billion people will live in cities. Though mega-cities (more than 10 million people) will continue to grow, most people will be living in cities of 500,000 or fewer.


By 2030, the urban population will rise to 5 billion, or 60 per cent of world population. Globally, all future population growth will take place in cities, nearly all of it in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In Asia and Africa, this marks a decisive shift from rural to urban growth, changing a balance that has lasted for millennia.


Urbanization—the rise in the urban share of total population—is inevitable, says the report, and could be considered a positive development. No country in the industrial age has achieved significant economic growth without urbanization.


The State of World Population 2007 reports that, although most new urbanites will be poor, they must be part of the solution. Assisting them to meet their needs—for housing, health care, education and employment—could also unleash the potential of urban-dwellers to power economic growth.


“The battle for the Millennium Development Goals to halve extreme poverty by 2015 will be won or lost in the cities of the developing world,” says Ms. Obaid. “This means accepting the rights of poor people to live in cities and working with their creativity to tackle potential problems and generate new solutions.”


The response of national and municipal governments to urban growth has often been to try to discourage, prevent or even reverse migration, say report authors—despite the fact that migration can actually be beneficial. But it is a failed policy, one that has resulted in less housing for the poor and increased slum growth. It also limits opportunities for the urban poor to improve their lives and to contribute fully to their communities and neighbourhoods.


According to the report, city authorities and urban planners should make it a priority to provide for the shelter needs of the urban poor. They should offer the poor secure tenure on land that is outfitted with power, water and sanitation services. Those living in poor communities should have access to education and health care and should be encouraged to build their own homes.


Most urban growth results from natural increase rather than migration. To reduce the pace of growth, policymakers should support interventions such as poverty reduction initiatives, investments in the empowerment of women, education—particularly of women and girls—and health, including reproductive health and family planning services.


Half of the urban population is under the age of 25. The Youth Supplement, Growing Up Urban, tells the stories of 10 young people who have migrated to, or are growing up in, cities. It also highlights the special needs of young people—for education and health care, for protection from violence, for employment and for integration into the wider society. Meeting these needs will help many escape their own impoverished upbringing.


Policymakers and planners need to harness the potential of cities to improve the lives of all. Three initiatives stand out:

  • Accept the right of poor people to the city, abandoning attempts to discourage migration and prevent urban growth. City authorities should work closely with organizations of the urban poor, including women’s organizations.
  • Adopt a broad and long-term vision of the use of urban space. This means, among other things, providing minimally serviced land for housing and planning in advance to promote sustainable land use both within cities and in the surrounding areas. 
  • Begin a concerted international effort to support strategies for the urban future.


... Payvand News - 6/28/07 ... --

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