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Urban Populations Booming

The report points to the imminent doubling of the developing world's urban population and discusses what needs to be done to prepare for this massive increase. It looks more closely at the demographic processes underlying urban growth in developing areas and their policy implications. It specifically examines the consequences of the urban transition for poverty reduction and sustainability.
By William M. Reilly
UPI U.N. Correspondent
New York (UPI) June 27, 2007
The U.N. Population Fund has issued a warning as the majority of the world's population shifts from rural to urban areas that plans must be prepared now because the coming changes are too large and will happen too fast to allow for simply reacting. the first time in history, more than half of the world's population, or 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas, said the "UNFPA State of World Population 2007."

The increase in the urban share of total population is inevitable, but it can also be positive, said the 100-page report.

No country in the industrial age has ever achieved significant economic growth without urbanization, it said. Cities concentrate poverty, but they also represent poor people's best hope of escaping it.

The report released at U.N. World Headquarters in New York says while cities have pressing immediate concerns, merely reacting to challenges as they arise is not the answer.

It looks beyond current problems with specific attention to poverty reduction and sustainability while examining the implications of impending urban growth.

It is a call to action, the Population Fund said.

"Although attention has been focused on mega-cities, most urban growth will be in smaller towns and cities," the UNFPA said. "Their capacities will need considerable strengthening to meet the future challenge. Action now by governments, civil society and the international community can make a huge difference to social, environmental and living conditions."

Cities embody the environmental damage done by modern civilization; yet experts and policymakers increasingly recognize the potential value of cities to long-term sustainability. If cities create environmental problems, they also contain the solutions.

"The potential benefits of urbanization far outweigh the disadvantages." it said. "The challenge is in learning how to exploit its possibilities."

So far, attention has centered mostly on immediate concerns, problems such as how to accommodate the poor and improve living conditions; how to generate employment; how to reduce cities' ecological footprint; how to improve governance; and how to administer increasingly complex urban systems.

These are all obviously important questions, the report said, but they shrink in comparison with the problems raised by the impending future growth of the urban population.

Up until now, the Population Fund says policymakers and civil society organizations have reacted to challenges as they arise.

"This is no longer enough," the report said. A "pre-emptive approach is needed if urbanization in developing countries is to help solve social and environmental problems, rather than make them catastrophically worse."

The report points to the imminent doubling of the developing world's urban population and discusses what needs to be done to prepare for this massive increase. It looks more closely at the demographic processes underlying urban growth in developing areas and their policy implications. It specifically examines the consequences of the urban transition for poverty reduction and sustainability.

It looks at the differing conditions and needs of poor urban women and men, and the obstacles they face as they strive to claim their rights and realize their potential as productive members of the new urban world.

"As the population of smaller cities increases, their thin managerial and planning capacities come under mounting stress," the UNFPA said. "New ways will have to be found to equip them to plan ahead for expansion, to use their resources sustainably and to deliver essential services."

One of the report's key observations is poor people will make up a large part of future urban growth.

This has generally been overlooked, at great cost, the Population Fund said.

"Most urban growth now stems from natural increase (more births than deaths) rather than migration. But wherever it comes from, the growth of urban areas includes huge numbers of poor people. Ignoring this basic reality will make it impossible either to plan for inevitable and massive city growth or to use urban dynamics to help relieve poverty."

If any message was clear throughout the report it was "Urban and national governments, together with civil society, and supported by international organizations, can take steps now that will make a huge difference for the social, economic and environmental living conditions of a majority of the world's population."

Three initiatives were listed as a minimum: Respecting the rights of the poor to the city; the need for a longer-term and broader vision of the use of urban space to reduce poverty and promote sustainability and population institutions and specialists can and should play a key role in supporting community organizations, social movements, governments and the international community in improving the nature and form of future urban expansion.

Source: United Press International

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