The tremendous expansion of cities, especially in developing countries, is transforming social dynamics throughout the world. But while it brings daunting challenges, it also brings unprecedented opportunities. This year's edition of The State of World Population report from the United Nations Population Fund examines the causes of urban growth and the implications of expanding urbanization.
Within 10 years half the world's people will live in urban areas. Fuelled both by natural population increase and by migration from rural areas, rapid urban growth will continue well into the next century. Much of it will occur in the world's poorest countries.
This transformation will create new possibilities for economic and social progress, but will also vastly increase the difficulties cities already face in providing adequate infrastructure, housing, employment and social services. To be sustainable, development should be better balanced between rural and urban areas, and among small, medium-sized and large cities.
In line with a human-centred approach to development, this report focuses on the conditions of life in the cities, particularly the dimensions of urban poverty. It notes that the viability of cities will depend on their capacity to address people's needs by providing more effective investments in health and education. It calls for community participation in urban development, and emphasizes that women must be full partners. It stresses that one key aspect of empowering women is ensuring their rights to reproductive health and choice in family size.
This approach reflects a consensus about development priorities and human rights that has emerged from the recent cycle of global conferences. I expect the HABITAT II conference on the urban future to advance still further the understanding that social development and gender equality must be at the centre of overall development efforts. It is my hope that this report will contribute to that process.