UNFPAState of World Population 2002
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Chapter 1: Introduction – The Urban Potential

Enhanced investments in social development will be the key to the success of the urban future and thus the future of development itself in the 21st century.

Population Growth Remains High

In an already largely urban world the growth of cities will be the single largest influence on development in the first half of the 21st century. Urban population is 2.6 billion, 1.7 billion in developing countries. Urban population is growing faster than world population as a whole. Some cities are experiencing the fastest rates of population growth ever seen. Within ten years, more than half the people in the world will be living in cities, 3.3 billion of the 6.59 billion total.1

Nearly all the urban population increase will be in today's developing countries. They will account for 92.9 per cent of a more than 2 billion increase in the global urban population between 1995 and 2020. Two out of three urban dwellers live in developing regions; by 2015 it will be more than three out of four; by 2025, nearly four out of five. Much of this growth will come in the world's poorest countries, and many of the new urban dwellers, particularly women and their children, will be among the poorest people in the world.

A higher proportion of the world's people live in the biggest cities. There were 83 cities or city systems with populations of more than 1 million in 1950, 34 of them in developing countries. Today there are over 280 and this number is expected to almost double by 2015. All the new million-cities and 11 of the world's 15 biggest cities are in developing countries. In 1950, only the biggest city in the world (New York) had more than 10 million people; today 14 of the biggest have more than 10 million and Tokyo, the largest, has 26.5 million.

People living in rural areas will be increasingly affected by the urban dynamos. Rural populations will be more involved in meeting urban needs, responding to urban priorities and capitalizing on the opportunities the cities present. To a great extent in their daily lives, in their expectations of life, in their social organization and in their value systems they will become urbanized themselves.

One of the features of this process will be increasing mobility. Migration accounts for some 40 per cent of urban increase. Migrants learn quickly and transfer the habits and values of their hosts to their own societies. Although the volume of international migration is insignificant by comparison with internal movement, its effects are profound. International migrants have an impact on their adopted society out of proportion to their actual numbers.

The urban future carries many risks for the physical environment and natural resources, for social cohesion and for individual rights but it also offers vast opportunities. The experience of large cities as concentrations of human creativity and the highest forms of social organization suggests that the future will open new avenues for human development. Cities provide capital, labour and markets for entrepreneurs and innovators at all levels of economic activity. Cities already account for 60 to 80 per cent of the gross national product of many developing countries.

Cities also speed social transformation. Indicators of health, literacy and social mobility are all higher in urban areas. Among these the key indicators of movement towards the equality and autonomy of women, such as closing the gender gap in education, access to reproductive health services including family planning and sexual health, and fairly-paid waged employment are also higher.

The challenge of the urban future will be to sustain progress in social development in the face of unprecedented pressure. The assumption that urban growth will power development has held in many countries in Asia and some in Latin America. But even as urban-based economies grow, they are in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the poor and the dispossessed.

Poverty has not risen in step with population growth: in a number of countries in Asia the numbers of the poor have actually declined since the mid-1980s. But overall, the absolute number of the urban poor is still increasing. There are now an estimated 600 million people in urban areas in developing regions who cannot meet their basic needs for shelter, water and health from their own resources. Half the populations of cities in some of the world's poorest countries are living below official poverty levels. Poverty will present itself increasingly as an urban problem.

The new urban masses' success in finding livelihoods will determine the viability of cities and nations. It is not only a matter of creating employment opportunities: in the long term it will require larger and more effective social investments: in health, especially for reducing infant and maternal mortality; improving reproductive health, promoting family planning and sexual health, and controlling the spread of infectious diseases; in education, especially for girls and women; and in promoting autonomy and equality for women by these and other means. Releasing the potential of the female half of the urban population will be one of the keys to both social cohesion and economic progress.

The demands of the urban future will test the pledges made by the world's governments at the series of global conferences on social development which started in 1992 and conclude in June 1996 with the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT II) in Istanbul. Meeting their universally agreed goals is vital for the future of cities and for all prospects for human development.

Among the most specific goals are those of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994. The ICPD goals of providing universal primary health care including reproductive health care, family planning and sexual health by 2015, closing the gender gap in education and providing education for all by 2015, and ensuring equality and autonomy for women are essential for dynamic urban growth.

Quantitative Goals of the ICPD

Reproductive health care includes both younger and older women as well as those of child-bearing age, and men as well as women. The services offered must include prenatal and postnatal care, consultations and referrals for complications, and trained attendants in childbirth, in addition to family planning and sexual health care. Reproductive health care also provides protection and screening against sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, teaches responsible sexual behaviour and the elimination of harmful practices such as female genital mutilation. These services are more likely to be available in urban than in rural settings; they are likely to be of higher quality, and urban dwellers are more likely to take advantage of them. The challenge is to improve their range as well as their quality and maintain these in the face of mounting demand and pressure on resources.

Education, particularly the education of girls and women, is one of the keys to social and economic development. Research has shown that the education of girls and women is a powerful ally in the eradication of poverty. Educated women are better able to care for their own health and that of their families. Educated women marry later, have their first child later, and have fewer and healthier children. They are in a better position to secure employment and command higher rewards for their work. Women with families are very likely to use additional income on better food, health and education for their families, thus generating further investment in economic and social development.

Cities historically present fewer obstacles to women's education and tend to be less bound by traditions that work against women's interests. Compared with rural areas they have higher enrolment ratios and more schools offering all grades. The challenge will be to open urban schools to the children of shanty towns and informal settlements on the outskirts of every city in the developing world, while maintaining the advantages of education for girls.

Equally important for the urban future is the ICPD goal of empowerment: equality and autonomy for women. Women need to have decision-making power in their own lives and to participate in community and governmental institutions. They need to be able to make their own decisions concerning marriage and child-bearing, employment outside the home and the disposition of their income. Women heads of household are becoming an important factor in the urban community. Today, their families are much more likely to be poor. A viable future requires that they have the means to escape from poverty. It is no accident that women in industrialized countries and the more successful developing countries enjoy relatively higher levels of autonomy and equality, including access to health care and education.

Finally, reducing the pressure of numbers and progress towards the ICPD goal of stabilizing world population growth will be essential for a successful transition to an urban world.

A key element for success in this aim will be to meet rapidly growing demand for social investment. Though the market will meet some of this demand, ensuring that all needs are met must remain a responsibility of government as part of its monitoring of planning and policy.

Increasing urbanization has the potential for improving human life or increasing human misery. The cities can provide opportunities or frustrate their attainment; promote health or cause disease; empower people to realize their needs and desires or impose on them a simple struggle for basic survival. Which of these represents the urban future is a matter for us to decide.

A successful urban future depends as much as anything else on engaging all members of the community, especially women and the poor, in a constructive political process. Governments, in this view, are important partners in civil society, helping create and support the conditions under which all actors participate.

The process has an international dimension. Using the forum provided by the United Nations system, the large series of conferences of the 1990s have produced an agenda for social development in the 21st century and a framework for realizing its goals. International organizations such as UNFPA can offer leadership and coordination.

Especially in those countries where poverty is greatest, discrimination against women most severe and population pressures felt most keenly, national efforts cannot succeed unaided. The causes and effects of global urbanization cross national boundaries: so too must cooperation and compassion.

A Different View Of Development