The year 2008 marked a decisive
turning point in the history of humanity: for the first time ever, the urban
population exceeded those living in
rural areas. In all, the number of people
living in towns and cities that year was estimated at 3.3 billion. This is
expected to grow rapidly and touch 5 billion by 2030. Combined with a rapidly
ageing global population, this megatrend is likely to have a significant impact
on the way we live.
About 3 million people per week are being added
to cities in the developing world, according to UN-HABITAT's 'State of the
World's Cities Report 2008/9: Harmonious Cities' . The biggest jump is expected
to happen in Africa and Asia where the urban population is predicted to double ,
accounting for 80 per cent of the world's urban population growth by 2030. China
is expected to be 70 per cent urban by 2050. India
's urbanisation process is
likely to be slower, but our urban population will still touch 55 per cent, or
about 900 million people, by 2050. Together, the two countries have accounted
for more than half the new cities that have sprung up around the world. Of the
694 new cities established since 1990, 35 per cent are in China and 21 per cent
in India, says the UN Habitat report.
The developed world, where the
share of urban population is already 70 per cent, will not see much change. The
urban growth of the future, expected to take place mostly in the developing
world, will comprise a large proportion of people living in poverty due to
various factors including poor urban planning, persistent underdevelopment and
shortage of urban jobs.
Policymakers in the developed world who
wished to curb urban growth tried to do so by restricting migration into cities.
With the benefit of hindsight, it's clear this approach was flawed. The latest
research shows that natural increase contributes to as much as 60 per cent of
urban growth with migration and reclassification of "rural" areas and residents
as "urban" accounting for the remaining 40 per cent.
that has been conclusively busted is the belief that the developed world is
being flooded by migrants from impoverished nations. According to the Human
Development Report 2009, approximately 740 million people are internal migrants,
moving within their own country. Only a third of the world's 200 million
international migrants moved from the developing world to the developed world.
This is despite factors such as an ageing population in developed countries,
young and still-rising population of the developing world, more employment
opportunities and cheaper communication and travel favouring international
The greying of the world population was primarily a
concern of the developed world till the turn of the century. However, the coming
decades will see an increase in the growth of the elderly in the developing
world. From 1950 to 2000, the proportion of people above 60 years in the
developing countries went up slightly from six per cent to eight per cent while
that of children (under 15 years) declined from 38 per cent to 33 per cent.
However, by 2050, the proportion of 60+ is estimated to reach 19 per cent,
nearly one in every five persons, while that of children is expected to fall to
22 per cent. This could affect public spending priorities and change the way
resources will be shared between generations.
The other big
challenge lies in the gender ratio . Although women outnumber men in most
regions, the situation is reversed in parts of Asia, due to preference for the
male child and gender disparity in access to health care and basic amenities.
Women continue to lag in some countries of Africa and southern Asia when it
comes to primary and secondary schooling.
However, they have made
gains in higher education enrolment in most regions of the world. In some
regions, women's enrolment now equals or surpasses men. Though the gap continues
, the rate of growth of women's education indicates that women could form the
majority of student populations in the years to come as they seek education to