25 March 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on 2009 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects


Over half of the world’s 6.9 billion people now live in urban areas, with burgeoning small cities absorbing much of the growth of the next years, particularly in Asia and Africa, a United Nations demographic official said this morning.

Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, confirmed the continued but uneven urbanization of the world’s population, as she launched her group’s 2009 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects at a Headquarters press conference.

Ms. Zlotnick explained that every two years her Division puts out a revision of its forecast of the growth of urban and rural populations, counting cities as settlements of over 100,000 people.

The last revision, released in 2008, predicted that, by the end of that year, for the first time, more people would be living in urban than rural areas.  Today Ms. Zlotnik confirmed that development, saying that now 3.5 billion people, some 50.5 per cent of the population, lived in cities, while 3.4 billion remained rural.

She stressed, however, that the urban population was not evenly distributed all over the world, and growth patterns were expected to vary widely between continents and between settlements as categorized by their sizes.

“We have great differences between the different areas”, she said.  While Europe and North and South America were already highly urbanized, with North America having 82 per cent of its people in cities, Asia was only 42 per cent urban and Africa only 40 per cent.  Since Asia had two fifths of the world’s population, however, it also had the largest absolute number of urban dwellers.

Most of the urban growth would occur in small cities of one-half million population, she said, of which there were now 961 around the world.  They were largely concentrated in Asia, with China alone encompassing 25 per cent of them.  In 1980, that country had only 51 such cities, but the number had been doubling every 15 years.  Fifty-nine per cent of Chinese were expected to live in small cities by 2025.

Right now, Europe had 14 per cent of small cities, North America 9 per cent and Oceania 1 per cent.  Both Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean contained 12 per cent of those settlements.  A majority of African urban dwellers lived in small cities that were expected to expand greatly in the coming years.

On the other end of the spectrum, she said, the 21 existing mega-cities with more than 10 million people each contained 9 per cent of the world urban population.  They were expected to only increase to 10 per cent of the urban population by 2025, while small cities would absorb some 45 per cent of the projected increase in the world’s urban population by that time.

The reason for the much greater expectation of growth for small cities was that existing ones had room to expand.  In addition, there would be more of them, as rural centres grew into small cities.

In regard to the rural population, Ms. Zlotnik said its growth is stopping.  It had been declining in Europe, in particular, for a long time and now only 200 million rural dwellers remained there.

The rural populations of Asia would very likely decline as well in the next 40 years.  Now 2.4 billion people, it would probably decrease to 1.8 billion in that period.  By 2015, she said, at most 25 countries would remain more rural than urban.

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For information media • not an official record