DESA News Vol. 12, No. 02 February 2008

Trends and analysis

City dwellers set to surpass rural inhabitants in 2008

Developing countries are experiencing particularly rapid rates of urbanization

The world’s population has been undergoing a major transformation: over the past century it has been transformed from being mostly rural to being predominantly urban. In 2008, for the first time in history, half of the world’s people will live in urban areas, according to the latest revision of World Urbanization Prospects, a record of official estimates and projections of urban, rural and city populations prepared by DESA’s Population Division.

City dwellers set to surpass rural inhabitants in 2008

Not all regions are equally urbanized, however. Whereas in developed countries as a whole, 74 percent of the population lives in urban areas, just 44 percent of the population of developing countries does so, with these figures rising to 86 and 67 percent, respectively, in 2050 on current trends.

Between 2007 and 2050, the urban population is expected to increase by 3.1 billion. The largest numbers will be added to the urban population of Asia at 1.8 billion and Africa at 0.9 billion.

Today, Asia has the largest number of urban dwellers at 1.6 billion although its level of urbanization remains low at 41 percent. Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean have the second and third largest urban populations, at 0.53 billion and 0.45 billion respectively, and both are highly urbanized. Africa, with 0.37 billion urban dwellers, follows, although at 39 percent it has the lowest level of urbanization among the major regions of the world.

In discussing urbanization, the focus often is on large cities. Yet despite their visibility and dynamism, megacities – with at least 10 million inhabitants – accounted for just 8 percent of world population in 2007. Over half of all urban dwellers reside in localities with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants.

Moreover, the urban population of the world is highly concentrated in a few countries. Three-quarters of the world’s urban population lives in just 25 countries, notably China, India and the United States which today account for 35 percent of all urban dwellers. In addition to China and India, Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines are expected to account for a major proportion of the increase of the urban population in developing countries between 2007 and 2025.

World Urbanization Prospects presents estimates and projections for the urban and rural populations of 229 countries or areas and is published every two years. The complete 2007 revision is scheduled for release in February.

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Online discussion on sustainable development

DESA and UNDP and will hold a moderated discussion on achieving sustainable development hosted on MDGNet from 4 February to 14 March. Experts, practitioners and policy-makers from within and outside of the UN system will interact online to share experiences and generate practical input for the Economic and Social Council’s Annual Ministerial Review taking place in New York in July.

The discussion will consist of two parts. Part one, which runs from 4 to 22 February, will explore challenges countries face in integrating the goals of economic growth, social development and environmental protection. Part two, from 25 February to 14 March, will cover concrete policy initiatives that can help countries achieve sustainable development.

Expert moderators will guide participants through a series of questions that will lead to recommendations for strengthening national and international efforts. The discussion presents an opportunity for the broader development community, in particular those working at the country level, to provide input to the Economic and Social Council.

For more information and to sign up: http://www/ecosoc/newfunct/amredis.shtml

Global dimensions of desertification

Experts at Beijing conference discuss practical measures for combating desertification

Representatives of governments, organizations of the UN system and other international and regional institutions, as well as major groups, gathered for an international conference in Beijing from 22-24 January to discuss the challenges of desertification and measures to combat it.

Reinforcing the notion that the natural environment knows no political boundaries, participants concluded the meeting by stressing that desertification is a global issue with serious implications for worldwide eco-safety, food security, socio-economic stability, and sustainable development. Indeed, two billion people in the world today live in arid and semi-arid areas, said DESA Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang pointing out that “Ninety per cent of them live in the developing world, where increasing ecological stresses caused by desertification are threatening livelihoods.”

Combating desertification and land degradation requires large and long-term investments that are difficult to mobilize from central and local government budgets alone. It also requires providing economic and non-economic incentives to stakeholders, including small-scale land users, to invest in the sustainable management of land, forests and other natural resources. Such incentives may include, among others, establishing tenure security and access rights to land, water and forests, facilitating access to credits and technology, including IT, at favorable terms, improving early warning and information exchange on desertification and drought, and capacity-building.

The high level of rural poverty in many developing countries, particularly in Africa, continues to be among the most serious constraints to progress in combating desertification and land degradation. At the same time, desertification and land degradation exacerbates rural poverty in affected developing countries. “Of the countries ranked low on the human development index,” noted Sha, “the great majority are suffering from drought and desertification.” In fact, the average infant mortality rate for these countries is ten times higher when compared with the average infant mortality rate in developed countries. Their per capita income is also among the lowest in the world.

“We cannot allow this scourge to continue, afflicting millions of people,” Sha emphasized. “We have a historical responsibility to act, and to act quickly, in partnership.”

The conference was convened as part of preparations for the upcoming session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in May, which will address the issue of desertification, along with agriculture, land, drought, rural development, and Africa. The State Forestry Administration of the People’s Republic of China organized the event together with DESA, the secretariat of the UNCCD and other UN organizations.

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