Asia is the world's largest and most diverse region in both area and population. The extent and pace of urbanization vary considerably within the region, as does the capacity to accommodate urban growth. Asia is not highly urbanized by world standards. At nearly one third urban it is far below Latin America's level and approximately at that of Africa. Southern Asia is only about one- quarter urbanized, though urban growth there could accelerate as a consequence of economic reforms. Larger countries are generally less urbanized than smaller ones, but given their size, even moderate urban growth rates imply extremely large increases in urban populations.
Countries' urban growth rates are related to their levels of development and economic growth rates. Having urbanized rapidly, the more vigorous economies of Eastern and South-eastern Asia are now quickly slowing their urban growth and reorganizing their cities to reduce concentration. In other countries, populations are growing faster than the cities' economies can manage, deepening the persistent problems of "poverty, unemployment and underemployment, inadequate infrastructure and housing, deficient social services, and environmental degradation".2
Most Asian countries have long recognized the need to slow or reverse urban concentration and to energize their economic and social development. Finding an effective mix of policies has been difficult, however, and regional experience does not prescribe any single strategy for achieving either objective. Migration controls, land-use planning, investment in satellite cities, special economic zones, controls on industrial location, rural development, urbanization and service provision, fiscal incentives and other schemes have been adopted in different countries at different times. Their impact has varied, depending on the consistency of policies, institutional capacity and coordination, and the available resources. Both natural economic forces and macroeconomic policy reforms have also helped to reduce excess urban concentration under certain circumstances.
The smaller Pacific island states' integration into the international economy and pace of development are limited by the small scale of their production enterprises and by administrative and technical limitations. Urban environmental impacts on fragile local ecosystems also pose special difficulties.
The Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union, no longer managed by a centralized administration outside their borders, urgently need to develop vital civil societies and to strengthen their capacities for planning and administration. They must also adjust to major changes in their economic systems, trading partners and relations to the global economy, dislocations which have intensified conflicts within multi-ethnic communities.
Countries and large states of federal unions frequently accord lower priority to investments in social services and infrastructure than to industrial development. Those that have invested in education (particularly women's education) and basic health services (including reproductive health and family planning) have had striking results; Sri Lanka, India's Kerala State, Bangladesh and countries in East Asia have attained higher levels of education and health than other societies with similar economic status and urban burdens. Levels of women's participation in education, employment and other development activities differ considerably throughout the region.