WASHINGTON—For the first time in human history, the majority of people will live in cities next year, according to a new global population projection.
But a third of them—nearly a billion people—will be stuck in slums, warns a United Nations report released Friday, as cities replace rural areas as the world's centers of poverty.
According to the "State of the World's Cities 2006/7" report from the U.N. Human Settlements Program, which promotes better living conditions, an estimated 3.17 billion people live in urban areas this year out of a total world population of 6.45 billion.
With cities growing and rural populations shrinking, especially in Africa and Asia, the report projects a shift in the urban-rural balance next year.
Eroding with the shift is the assumption that countries' urban populations are healthier and better off, said Anna Tibaijuka, the director of the U.N. program.
"Until now, everyone's automatically presumed that people in rural areas have suffered a lot more than the urban poor, " she said. But the study showed that urban slum dwellers are at least as bad off—and oftentimes worse—than their rural counterparts.
Urbanization in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America is "premature," Tibaijuka said, because the influx is caused by failed agriculture instead of increased industrialization. Consequently, people are "arriving in cities where there are no jobs," she said.
The report also predicts that:
_By 2030, 5 billion out of 8 billion people will live in cities.
The world's fastest growing cities are in Asia and Africa, including Lagos, Nigeria, and Delhi, India. Currently the least urbanized continents, they'll be the most heavily urban by 2030.
_Most urban growth will be in cities of 500,000 to 5 million people.
_Despite cities' relative wealth, many slum dwellers will still die young of treatable diseases.
_There will be many more mega-cities with populations of 10 million or more by 2020. The majority will be in the developing world.
_By 2030, more people will live in African cities (748 million) than all of Europe (685 million).
"The hope is (that conditions) won't get worse," Tibaijuka said. "You also have to look at slum prevention—planning of smaller cities and providing land for the urban poor."
Poor, hopeless, ineffectively governed slums in the developing world have become breeding grounds for terrorism and disillusioned fanatics, and they'll continue to multiply there until the root problems are fixed, the report said.
To read the U.N. report, go to: http://hq.unhabitat.org/wuf/2006/sowc(underscore)presskit.asp
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060616 URBAN report
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