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Two out of three people may live in a city by 2050

Tokyo is the world’s largest city with an agglomeration of 37 million inhabitants followed by New Delhi with 29 million

São Paulo is the fourth largest city alongside Mexico City with around 22 million inhabitants
São Paulo is the fourth largest city alongside Mexico City with around 22 million inhabitants

The United Nations (UN) is calling for more sustainable urban planning and public services with more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of the world population projected to be living in urban areas by 2050, up from just over half (55 per cent) today.


Its projections reveal that urbanisation, the gradual shift in residence of the human population from rural to urban areas, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050.


Close to 90 per cent of this increase is taking place in Asia and Africa, according to the 2018 Revision of World Urbanisation Prospects, produced by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). It notes that future increases in the size of the world’s urban population are expected to be highly concentrated in just a few countries.


The reports finds that, together, India, China and Nigeria will account for 35 per cent of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050. By 2050, it is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million and Nigeria 189 million.


DESA said: “Understanding the key trends in urbanisation likely to unfold over the coming years is crucial to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including efforts to forge a new framework of urban development.


“As the world continues to urbanise, sustainable development depends increasingly on the successful management of urban growth, especially in low-income and lower-middle-income countries where the pace of urbanisation is projected to be the fastest.


“Many countries will face challenges in meeting the needs of their growing urban populations, including for housing, transportation, energy systems and other infrastructure, as well as for employment and basic services such as education and healthcare.”


The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018. Asia, despite its relatively lower level of urbanisation, is home to 54 per cent of the world’s urban population, followed by Europe and Africa with 13 per cent each.


Today, the most urbanised regions include Northern America (with 82 per cent of its population living in urban areas in 2018), Latin America and the Caribbean (81 per cent), Europe (74 per cent) and Oceania (68 per cent).


The level of urbanisation in Asia is now approximating 50 per cent. In contrast, Africa remains mostly rural, with 43 per cent of its population living in urban areas.


Tokyo is the world’s largest city with an agglomeration of 37 million inhabitants, followed by New Delhi with 29 million, Shanghai with 26 million, and Mexico City and São Paulo, each with around 22 million inhabitants. Today, Cairo, Mumbai, Beijing and Dhaka all have close to 20 million inhabitants.


Some cities have experienced population decline in recent years. The UN reports that most of these are located in the low-fertility countries of Asia and Europe where overall population sizes are stagnant or declining. Economic contraction and natural disasters have also contributed to population losses in some cities.


By 2020, Tokyo’s population is projected to begin to decline, while Delhi is projected to continue growing and to become the most populous city in the world around 2028.


By 2030, the world is projected to have 43 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants, most of them in developing regions. However, some of the fastest-growing urban agglomerations are cities with fewer than 1 million inhabitants, many of them located in Asia and Africa. While one in eight people live in 33 megacities worldwide, close to half of the world’s urban dwellers reside in much smaller settlements with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants.


DESA calls for integrated policies to improve the lives of both urban and rural dwellers and a strengthening of the linkages between urban and rural areas, building on their existing economic, social and environmental ties.


It said: "To ensure that the benefits of urbanisation are fully shared and inclusive, policies to manage urban growth need to ensure access to infrastructure and social services for all, focusing on the needs of the urban poor and other vulnerable groups for housing, education, health care, decent work and a safe environment."


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