Half of global population will live in cities by end of this year, predicts UN

26 February 2008 –

By the end of this year, half of the world’s 6.7 billion people will live in urban areas, according to a report unveiled by the United Nations today, which also predicts that future growth of the world’s urban population will be concentrated in Asia and Africa.

The 2007 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects provides the official UN estimates and projections of the urban, rural and city populations of all countries in the world up to 2050.

The latest data contained in the report confirms that “urbanization is growing everywhere,” said Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), which prepared the report.

Presenting the findings at a press briefing in New York, Ms. Zlotnik added that perhaps the most important message of the report is that not all the regions of the world are equally urbanized.

“Although Asia and Africa are the least urbanized areas, they account for most of the urban population of the world,” she stated, adding that the growth of the urban population in the years to come is going to be highly concentrated in these two regions.

Currently there are 1.6 billion people living in Asia’s urban areas. That number is expected to rise by another 1.8 billion people in the next four decades, more than doubling the urban population, Ms. Zlotnik pointed out.

China, which is now 40 per cent urban, is expected to become more than 70 per cent urban by 2050. Its urban population is expected to number about 1 billion by that year.

In comparison, only 30 per cent of India’s population today is living in urban areas – slightly more than 300 million people. By 2050, 55 per cent of India’s population will be living in urban areas, amounting to 900 million people. “India is expected to urbanize much less than China and, therefore, it is expected to remain the country with the largest rural population during most of the future decades,” said Ms. Zlotnik.

Turning to Africa, she noted that the urban population is “likely to triple over the next 40 years,” passing from 340 million to over 900 million.

Meanwhile, the urban population will grow a little bit in Latin America, while not very much in the developed world, she said, adding that “more or less what we have today is what they’re going to face.”

The report does note that the projections will only be realized if fertility rates in the developing world continue to decline. If fertility rates continue at current levels and urbanization occurs at the predicted pace, the world urban population will increase to 8.1 billion by 2050 instead of the 6.4 billion projected.

Ms. Zlotnik pointed out that there are three components of growth – natural increase, transfer of the rural population to urban areas through migration, and reclassification of rural localities to urban centres. “In most of the countries of the developing world, estimates show that about 60 per cent of urban growth is now attributable to natural increase.

“The exception is China, where only 30 per cent of urban growth is due to natural increase and 70 per cent is attributable to changes in the number of areas considered urban and also to migration,” she stated.

She added that while megacities – those with more than 10 million inhabitants – attract a lot of attention, that is not where most of the population growth will be found. With 36 million people, Tokyo is the world’s largest megacity and it is not expected to change in size until 2025.

The fastest growth rates will be found in the cities of Africa, such as Lagos and Kinshasa that are not yet megacities but will be in the future, and the cities of Pakistan and Bangladesh, such as Lahore, Karachi and Dhaka.


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