UN report spells out challenges of urban population boom

Two-thirds of the world will live in cities by 2050, with 90 per cent of growth taking place in the Global South

July 12, 2014 06:05 am | Updated November 16, 2021 11:27 pm IST

Two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, posing unique infrastructural challenges for African and Asian countries, where 90 per cent of the growth is predicted to take place.

The planet’s urban population overtook the number of rural residents in 2010, and is likely to rise by about 2.5 billion to more than 6 billion people in less than 40 years, according to a U.N. report. Africa and Asia “will face numerous challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations, including for housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy and employment, as well as for basic services such as education and healthcare,” it adds.

Future development targets should focus on creating inclusive cities with adequate infrastructure and services for all residents, said John Wilmoth, director of the U.N.’s population division. “Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century,” he said. “Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.”

The report says rapid urbanisation will bring opportunities for governments to improve access to important services. “Providing public transportation, as well as housing, electricity, water and sanitation for a densely settled population is typically cheaper and less environmentally damaging than providing a similar level of services to a predominantly rural household,” it says.

Africa is projected to experience a 16 per cent rise in its urban population by 2050 making it the most rapidly urbanising region on the planet as the number of people living in its cities soars to 56 per cent.

The world’s 3.4 billion-strong rural population will start to decline as urbanisation becomes more common. The U.N. projects that rural populations will increase in only a third of countries between 2014 and 2050, as states with large rural communities will take longer to urbanise. “In general, the pace of urbanisation tends to slow down as a population becomes more urbanised,” the report says.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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