China now home to one quarter of world’s largest cities, UN reports

Hania Zlotnik

25 March 2010 – Nearly one quarter of the world’s 1,000 biggest cities in China, whose urban population is growing rapidly, according to a new statistical report issued by the United Nations.

In 1980 in China, there were only 51 cities with more than 500,000 people. That number has quadrupled since then to 236, and by 2025, the Asian nation is expected to add more than 100 other cities to that group.

China’s urban population has more than doubled between 1980 and 2010, surging from 19 to 47 per cent, and is expected to reach 59 per cent by 2025.

The 2009 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects also finds that just over half of the global population, or 3.5 billion people, now live in cities, with nearly all of that group concentrated in the largest urban areas.

“Although we say that the whole world is half urban at this moment, there are great disparities between countries,” Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), told reporters in New York today.

Some countries – such as Belgium, Kuwait and Singapore – are now almost completely urban, while others – including Burundi, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Uganda – are still highly rural. By last year, 140 out of the world’s 230 countries or areas were more than half urban, and in the coming four decades, 66 countries or areas will join their ranks.

The new study notes that Asia has the greatest percentage of rural inhabitants at 42 per cent, edging out Africa which stands at 40 per cent.

But Asia also has the largest number of cities – 52 per cent of them – with populations topping 500,000, driven largely by the high concentration of cities in China.

The world’s 21 so-called megacities, which have at least 10 million inhabitants, house 9 per cent – or 324 million people – of the global urban population, the report says. Another eight megacities are expected to emerge by 2025, including Guangzhou, Jakarta, Lima and Kinshasa.

The new study also says that the world’s rural population will start to decline around 2020 and will drop from 3.4 billion now to 2.9 billion in the next three decades.


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