New York Times, June 28, 2007
By CELIA W. DUGGER
By next year, more than half the worlds population, 3.3 billion people, will for the first time live in towns and cities, a number expected to swell to almost 5 billion by 2030, according to a United Nations Population Fund report released today.
The onrush of change will be particularly extraordinary in Africa and Asia, where between 2000 and 2030 the accumulated urban growth of these two regions during the whole span of history will be duplicated in a single generation, the report says.
This surge in urban populations, fueled more by natural increase than the migration of people from the countryside, is unstoppable, said George Martin, author of the report, State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth.
Cities will edge out rural areas in more than sheer numbers of people. Poverty is now increasing more rapidly in urban areas as well, and governments need to plan for where the poor will live rather than leaving them to settle illegally in shanties without sewage and other services, the United Nations says.
In Latin America, where urbanization came earlier than in other developing regions, many countries and cities ignored or fruitlessly tried to retard urban growth. Now the levels of insecurity and violence are a product of this approach, said Mr. Martine, a demographer and sociologist. People have been left to fend for themselves and have created these enormous slums.
A billion people, a sixth of the worlds population, already live in slums, 90 percent of them in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 7 in 10 urban dwellers live in a slum. The regions slum population has almost doubled in just 15 years, reaching 200 million in 2005. Its urban population is already as large as North Americas.
China, the worlds most populous nation, is now at the peak of its urban transition, the report says. Urbanites will outnumber peasants within a decade. China will then have 83 cities with more than 750,000 residents, but only five with a population of more than five million, according to the report.
In fact, the report predicts that the bulk of the urban population growth is likely to be in smaller cities and towns, not the 20 mega-cities that dominate the public imagination. The future lies in places like Gabarone, Botswana, whose population is projected to rise to 500,000 in 2020 from 18,000 in 1971, as much as it does in chaotic, sprawling metropolises like Lagos, Nigeria.
Among the mega-cities with populations of more than 10 million, only Lagos and Dhaka, Bangladesh are expected to grow at rates exceeding 3 percent over the coming decade. Such super-sized cities today contain 9 percent of all urban inhabitants, while smaller cities and towns account for more than half.
Many of the worlds largest cities Buenos Aires, Calcutta, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Seoul actually have more people moving out than in, and few are close to the size that doomsayers predicted for them in the 1970s, the report says.
The report notes that while rates of urban growth have slowed in most regions of the world, the story now lies in the scale of growth in the sheer numbers of people.
The first great wave of urbanization unfurled over two centuries, from 1750 to 1950, in Europe and North America, with urban populations rising from 15 million to 423 million.
The second wave is happening now in the developing world. The number of people living in urban areas will have grown from 309 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2030. By 2030, the developing world will have 80 percent of the worlds urban population.
If the coming population growth is helter skelter, with inadequate services and sprawling slums, it could pollute urban water sheds with untreated sewage and contribute to rising crime and violence, Mr. Martine said. The result of that approach is already apparent in existing slums.
The poor settle in the worst living space, on steep hillsides or river banks that will be flooded, where nobody else wants to live and speculators havent taken control of the land, he said. They have no water and sanitation and the housing is terrible. And this situation threatens the environmental quality of the city.
But cities are also engines of economic growth, the report notes more optimistically. Cities concentrate poverty, it said, but they also represent the best hope of escaping it.
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