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close this bookThe Courier N 160 - Nov - Dec 1996 - Dossier Habitat - Country reports: Fiji , Tonga (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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close this folderHabitat
View the documentLivable cities and rural rights
View the documentTowards a global concept of urban development - an interview with Daby Diagne
View the documentHabitat II: taking stock
View the document'A house to call my own'
View the documentMegacities
View the documentLagos under stress
View the documentA Eurocrat in Istanbul
View the documentThe exploding city
View the documentAdequate housing in the EU: rights and realities
View the documentCities of the Third World
View the documentWhen conservation is at odds with the local population
View the documentA new 'eco-centre' in West Africa: Two Presidents amid the dust
View the documentThe RDP challenge
View the documentTargeting South Africa's poor
View the document'Guardians of Eden'


The megacity personifies human misery for many in developing nations. As agglomerations proliferate in the twenty-first century, the United Nations Population Fund's 1996 report - The State of the World Population - considers how one might go about remedying the ills of city dwelling.

The UNFPA's figures for urban growth make worrying reading. Over half the world's people will live in cities within ten years (3.3 billion out of a total of 6.59 billion). Between 1970 and 2020, the urban population will have risen by more than two billion - and 93% of these will be in developing nations. These increases will add to the strain of an estimated 600 million people already living in urban areas of developing nations without the resources to meet their basic housing and health needs.

Back in 1950, New York was the only city with more than 10 million inhabitants. Today, there are 14 in this category. Tokyo, which is home to 26.5 million people, is the largest. And by 2015, many others are expected to join the megacity 'club' - Djakarta (Indonesia), Karachi (Pakistan), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Delhi (India), Tianjin (China), Manila (Philippines), Cairo (Egypt), Istanbul (Turkey), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Lahore (Pakistan), Hyderabad (India), Bangkok (Thailand), Lima (Peru), Teheran (Iran) and Kinshasa (Zaire).

While the majority of the world's people will be living in cities by 2005, it will take a little longer for the 50% threshold to be crossed in the less developed regions. However, this is expected to happen before 2015. Looking specifically at Africa, the current estimates reveal significant regional variations. In Southern Africa the rate of urbanisation is 48%. The figures for North, West, Central and East Africa are 45%, 36%, 33% and 21 % respectively.

Expanding populations are likely to add to the widely reported list of horrors emanating from cities that are bursting at their seams. Problems include the collapse of basic services such as water and waste management, escalating social conflict, millions of urban children open to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, environmental degradation, traffic congestion and environmental hazards such as increased air pollution.

On the other hand, the UNFPA report acknowledges that cities are also 'concentrations of human creativity and the highest form of social organisation'. It continues: 'Cities provide capital, labour and markets for entrepreneurs and innovators at all levels of economic activity'. Indeed, between 60% and 80% of developing countries' GNP is generated by their major conurbations. Social transformation occurs at a faster pace in urban areas. Thus, health indicators tend to be better, literacy is higher and there is more social mobility. And there are more opportunities for women. The city presents fewer obstacles for women's education and female city dwellers are less likely to be constrained by traditions which may stifle their creativity.

But harnessing this potential is no easy task. The final chapter of the UNFPA report, entitled 'Policies, strategies and issues for improving cities', argues that urban dwellers in developing nations have been badly affected by structural adjustment policies. These have resulted in the elimination of subsidies on food and other commodities, increases in school fees and job losses in the public sector. Cities will also be required to adapt to the 'mass global experience in decentralisation' involving the shifting of local decisions from central government to municipal authorities, parastatal bodies and the private sector.

Regional distribution of urban population

Women - a priority

The report stresses the importance of improving education and health, with a particular focus on women. As Dr Nafis Sadik, who is Executive Director of the UNFPA, observes; 'If urban centres are to be made liveable, and the quality of life of the poorer members of society is to be improved, women should be given the chance to play their role in the process.'

The report reiterates the specific targets for improving the lives of women that were drawn up by the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo.

In the field of education, these include 100% primary school enrolment (for both girls and boys) by 2015, improving access for girls and women to secondary, tertiary and vocational education, and closing the gender gap in the primary and secondary sectors by 2005.

Other goals include a progressive reduction in infant and maternal mortality, making reproductive health services accessible to all through the primary health care system by 2015, greatly improved provision for family planning (allowing couples to make free and informed decisions on the number, spacing and timing of births) and providing better protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

The State of the World Population Report concludes: '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.

There will have to be partnerships struck between governments, nongovernmental organisations, the private sector, and local and community organisations.

And global urbanisation will require that the international community - governments, NGOs and international institutions - act to exploit the potential of cities to improve the lives of the world's people and to establish the foundations of sustainable development in the 21st century.'