Tuesday, February 26, 2008

UN Forecasts Urban Population Explosion

An urban planet?

That seems to be the future, according to the United Nations. A UN forecast said Tuesday that half the world's population will live in urban areas by the end of this year and about 70 percent will be city dwellers by 2050, with cities and towns in Asia and Africa registering the biggest growth.

The report predicted there will be 27 "megacities" with at least 10 million residents by mid-century compared to 19 giant metropolitan areas today. But it said at least half the urban growth in coming decades will be in smaller cities that now have less than 500,000 people.

According to last year's UN estimate, the world's population is expected to rise from 6.7 billion in 2007 to 9.2 billion in 2050. Over the same span, the new report said, the total population of urban areas is projected to rise from 3.3 billion to 6.4 billion.

Most in Developed Nations

More than 70 percent of the populations in Europe, North America and richer developed nations in other regions already live in urban areas, while only 39 percent of Africans and 41 percent of Asians were in urban areas last year.

"During 2008, for the first time in history, the proportion of the population living in urban areas will reach 50 percent," the report said, adding that "the level of urbanization is expected to rise from 50 percent in 2008 to 70 percent in 2050."

By mid-century, Asia is projected to see its urban population increase by 1.8 billion, Africa by 900 million and Latin America and the Caribbean by 200 million, it said.

Number of Children

The report said that the projections will take place only if the number of children in families in the developing world continues to decline, especially in Africa and Asia.

The UN expects Africa to reach 50 percent urbanization between 2045 and 2050. Asia, if it continues to urbanize as rapidly as it's doing now, especially because of the rapid urbanization in China, is expected to become 50 percent urbanized around 2020-2025.

China, the world's most populous nation, is already 40 percent urban. The UN expects China's urban population to reach more than 70 percent by 2050.

By contrast, the world's second most populous nation, India, has just over 300 million urban residents, or 29 percent of its population. By 2050, it is expected to have 55 percent of the population, about 900 million, in cities.

The UN says disparities in urbanization will remain. Burundi and Papua New Guinea, for example, have only 10 percent of their people living in urban areas, while the small city state of Singapore is 100 percent urban.

POST SCRIPT: The planetary trend is not new. Fourteen percent of the world's population lived in urban centers in 1920. By 1960, it was 25%. In the United States, about 5% of the population lived in cities in 1800; but about 50% of the population lived in cities by 1920. Throughout the 19th century, the US was urbanizing. The same was true for most European societies during the 19th century.