The world will reach a turning point next year when for the
first time most of its population will be living in towns and
cities, a UN agency said yesterday, warning the change must be
Unless urban planners make provision for this inevitability,
particularly in the developing world, towns and cities risk being
swamped, Thoraya Obaid, head of the UN population fund (UNFPA)
"Urban growth is happening. It is inevitable," Obaid said as the
organization's State of the World Population 2007 report was
"But unless you manage it, it will manage you and could become a
hotbed of political unrest and armed conflict."
The United Nations has sounded the warning several times before,
most notably in UN Habitat's 2003 report on the growth of slums
which are home to a third of the world's urban population.
But the UNFPA's latest report is the clearest message yet.
It says by 2008 more than 3.3 billion of the Earth's 6.6 billion
people will be urbanized, rising to 5 billion in 2030. Most will be
in developing countries, living in cities in low-lying coastal
areas at high risk from flooding due to global warming.
Between 2000 and 2030, Asia's urban population will double to
2.6 billion people, while Africa's will more than double to 742
million from 294 million. In Latin America and the Caribbean it
will surge to 609 million from 394 million.
"If we want to capitalize on the potential of this urban
migration then we should change our mindset," Obaid said.
"Policies have to be changed and the proper investments and
programs have to be made," she said. "Slums, poverty and violence
exist because urban growth has not been well managed."
Obaid said rather than try to keep back the tide of urban
migration as is generally the case, urban planners had to set aside
land with basic services like water, shelter and sanitation to
That would allow for proper spatial planning and avoid the
unfettered mushroom-like growth of slums, and also bring incoming
people into the urban fold and the local economy - particularly
women and the young.
"Urbanization is a force for good if it is well harnessed and
well managed," Obaid said, noting greater independence for urban
women and better access to health and family planning
But unplanned urbanization bred poverty and hopelessness and
handed gangsters and unscrupulous local politicians a ready market
for exploitation and abuse.
The report noted that, contrary to expectations a decade ago,
megacities - those with more than 10 million people - were not
where most growth was now taking place.
Instead, the expansion was occurring in cities of half a million
people or less which had largely escaped planners' attentions to
date. These cities had few facilities and even fewer plans to cope
with their burgeoning populations.
"We have to try to change the way people think and act, and we
must start now, before it is too late," Obaid said.
(China Daily via agencies June 28, 2007)