Urbanization, the region's biggest challenge
By 2018, more than half of Asia-Pacific's population is expected to
live in urban areas, making it the biggest challenge facing the region's
governments and cities, says a new study.
The report, titled The State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015, was
launched on October 19 at the Sixth Asian Pacific Urban Forum in
Compiled by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the
Pacific (UNESCAP) and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat),
the document noted the unprecedented speed and scope of urbanization in
the region. Between 1980 and 2010, Asia-Pacific's cities grew by one
billion people. The urban population in the region is expected to reach
3.2 billion by 2050. In China and India alone, the number of people
living in cities is expected to grow by 696 million.
The number of megacities in the region is also expected to increase.
Currently, Asia and the Pacific is home to 17 megacities, three of which
are the world's largest (Tokyo, Delhi and Shanghai). By 2030, there will
be 22 megacities. The report attributes rapid growth rates to
globalization and economic growth, which has lifted hundreds of millions
out of poverty and created a thriving urban middle class that accounts
for almost two billion people.
However, despite wealth gains, the region is still home to the
world's largest urban slum population and largest concentration of
people living below the poverty line.
According to the World Bank, 758 million people in Asia live below
the US$1.25 poverty line. Asia also has 60 percent of the world's total
slum population, UN-Habitat has reported.
Though low-income households may experience income increases, they
also face higher costs of living as land values rise and urban sites
occupied by poor communities come under development pressure.
This has led to cases of forced
For instance, during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, almost
500,000 people were evicted from their homes to make way for the
construction of sports facilities, commercial centres, residential
buildings, and office towers. Similarly, during the 2010 Commonwealth
Games in New Dehli, 200,000 low-income urban residents were evicted.
Inequalities within cities are therefore persistent and widespread as
urban poor continue to lack access to adequate shelter, water,
sanitation, health and even a legally defined address, the report
UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNESCAP
Shamshad Akhtar noted this dark side of economic growth, stating:
"Unacceptable numbers of people continue to live in slums, earn
insufficient incomes and live in vulnerable and unhealthy environments."
"Current economic models are not providing a sufficient basis for
inclusive and sustainable development," she continued. The report also
warned that the region's cities are among the most vulnerable to natural
disasters and climate change.
Almost three-quarters of global natural disasters between 1970 and
2011 occurred in the Asia-Pacific region. Poor and disadvantaged
communities have been and will continue to be disproportionately
affected, the report added. The report underscored the need to make
Asian-Pacific cities more resilient, safe, inclusive and sustainable.
Akhtar highlighted: "The need for strong leadership and political
commitment, both at the national and subnational levels, to gear up
responses, learn and adapt from the region's successful stories of urban
transformations, and deploy innovation and newer technologies,
strengthening local governance institutions and working more closely
with private sector to manage urbanization."
It has been an "urban century," the report noted, where the number of
people living in towns and cities is greater than those living in rural
areas for the first time in history.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by world leaders
last month, include commitments to enhance inclusive and sustainable