Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP peopleandplanet.net
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Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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cities > factfile

Urban world
In 2005, developing countries had some 2.3 billion urban dwellers compared with 900 million in industrialized countries. Half of all urban growth in developing countries was attributed to in-migration. ... more

How the cities grow
The world’s rural population has reached its peak, and almost all further population growth will be absorbed by urban settlements. By the end of 2007, for the first time in human history, half the 6.5 billion people of our planet will be living in towns and cities. ... more

The largest cities
Over the last 50 years, more and more cities have reached sizes that are historically unprecedented. While there are examples in history of cities that had populations of one million or more inhabitants (including imperial Rome at the height of its powers and Edo, the precursor of Tokyo in the 13th century), the city with several million inhabitants is a relatively new phenomenon. ... more

Urban population trends
In 2007, for the first time, half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2030, the urban population will reach 5 billion — 60 per cent of the world’s population (see graph). Nearly all population growth will be in the cities of developing countries, whose population will double to nearly 4 billion by 2030 — about the size of the developing world’s total population in 1990. ... more

Urban poverty
In most urban centres of Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, between a third and a half of the population have incomes that are too low to allow them to meet their needs. And in the world's poorest countries, nearly 80 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums. ... more

Environment and health
Many of the most serious diseases in cities are 'environmental' because they are transmitted through disease causing agents (pathogens) in the air, water, soil, food, or through insects or animals that are vectors for diseases. Many diseases and disease vectors (for instance the mosquitoes that transmit malaria, dengue fever or yellow fever) thrive when provision for water, sanitation, drainage, garbage collection and health care is inadequate. ... more

Ecological impacts
Cities make a huge claim on the planet's natural resources. These include fresh water, fuels, land, food, building materials and all the raw materials that feed into the production systems of enterprises concentrated there. The more populous the city and the richer its inhabitants, the greater the resource demands and, in general, the larger the area from which these are drawn. ... more

Securing water for cities
Some 60 per cent of all freshwater withdrawn for human use ends up in urban areas - either directly for use in factories and for drinking and sanitation, or indirectly through the consumption of irrigated crops. ... more

Little is known with certainty about urban migration, though some estimates are that it may account for between 40 and 60 per cent of annual urban population growth. Migration is clearly more significant in rapidly industrializing regions such as Asia and parts of Africa. China, for example, may see 200 million more rural labourers looking for work in the cities over the next decade. In other regions that have largely completed the urban transition, such as Latin America, Europe and North America, it is less significant. ... more

Here are some basic facts on housing taken from the UN Commission on Human Settlements (Habitat) State of the World's Cities Report 2001: ... more

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Latest factfile
  • Urban world

  • How the cities grow

  • The largest cities

  • Urban population trends

  • Urban poverty

  • Environment and health

  • Ecological impacts

  • Securing water for cities

  • Migration

  • Housing

  • Traffic congestion

  • Towards sustainable cities

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