Press Conference to Launch ‘World Urbanization Prospects’ Report

5 April 2012

Press Conference to Launch ‘World Urbanization Prospects’ Report

5 April 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Launch ‘World Urbanization Prospects’ Report


Africa and Asia would lead urban population growth over the next four decades as the number of people on those continents soared to 4.5 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations report released at Headquarters today.

The urban population in Africa, notably in Nigeria, would triple from 413 million to more than 1.2 billion between 2011 and 2015, while the number of Asia’s urban inhabitants, especially in India and China, would almost double, rising from 1.9 billion to 3.3 billion, according to the 2011 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, a publication of the Population Division of the Department of Economic of Social Affairs.  The additional 2.3 billion on the two continents would account for 86 per cent of urban population expansion around the world, according to the report.

“This will pose new challenges,” said Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, at a news conference to launch the report.  “Africa and Asia will have to experience very significant economic growth to be able to increase urban employment opportunities, expand urban transportation infrastructure, improve water supply systems as well as energy systems.”  Moreover, urban areas on both continents would require substantially more housing, schools and public health services to accommodate both the burgeoning number of people born in their cities as well as the influx of migrants from rural areas.

“Urban areas worldwide will effectively have to cope with the equivalent of the world population in 1950 in the year 2050,” said Mr. Sundaram.  By 2050, some 9.3 billion people would inhabit the planet, more than two thirds of them in urban areas.  Noting that about half of the world’s urban population lived in cities with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants in 2011, he said that only 9.9 per cent lived in very large cities of populations in excess of 10 million.  By 2050, however, some 630 million people, or 13.9 per cent of the global urban populace, would live in such “mega cities”.

He said that trend was worrisome as 60 per cent of all cities with 1 million inhabitants or more — home to a total of 890 million people — were located in areas at risk for at least one major type of natural disaster, such as earthquakes, floods, landslides or droughts.  “All this poses very special challenges and that is why the whole discussion preceding the ‘Rio+20’ Conference in June this year on sustainable cities becomes all the more important,” he said.  “Cities are precisely where the pressures of migration, globalization, economic development, social inequality, environmental pollution and climate change all come together.”

Gerhard Heilig, Chief of the Department’s Population Estimates and Projections Section, said the 2011 report included the geographical coordinates of all cities with more than 750,000 inhabitants, the first time that such data had been included in the biennial publication.  Their inclusion would allow researchers in various fields to link urban population growth projections to various environmental characteristics, such as a city’s proximity to coastal areas, earthquake faults or climate zones, as well as the related risk factors, Mr. Heilig said.

“That’s important, specifically for development planning and all types of geophysical analysis,” he noted, describing the inclusion of such analysis as “a quantum leap forward”.  He also noted that the report’s estimates and projections were based on new empirical data from the 2010 round of censuses carried out by more than two thirds of the world’s countries and cities.

Asked whether Asia and Africa should bolster family-planning and population-control efforts because of their explosive urban-population growth, Mr. Heilig said that was a “very sensitive” area.  Their growth had nothing to do with reproductive behaviour and high fertility rates, and would continue despite large and rapid declines in fertility.  Rather, it was due to population momentum — or natural increases in population — even when child-bearing levels dropped immediately to replacement levels.  For example, in China, which had a policy of restricting married urban couples to only one child, the urban population continued to expand rapidly despite the very low fertility rate, he said.  Likewise, Africa’s birth rate exceeded its death rate, causing population growth through natural increase.

Mr. Sundaram pointed out that people in the developing world had large families as a type of insurance against high infant and child mortality rates.  But they would have less incentive to create large families if their Governments — instead of their own children — provided for them in times of need.  He emphasized the vital importance of the social protection floors created over the last few years, which provided access to such essential services as health care, education, housing, water and sanitation, as well as cash stipends to pay for such services.  Social safety nets were particularly important because life expectancy was rising around the world, including in poorer countries, he added.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.