Asia, Africa driving urban growth, says UN official

Asia, Africa driving urban growth, says UN official

By Lyndal Rowlands

UNITED NATIONS- Rapidly growing cities in Asia and Africa are driving the global trend towards urbanization, says an UN-Habitat official.

In a recent interview, Ana Moreno, chief of advocacy of the outreach and communications at the UN human settlements program (UN-Habitat), told Xinhua: “I think the most important factor of why this century is increasing so fast in terms of urban people is especially (growth in) Africa and Asia.”

“Those two continents have seen an incredible increase of populations — cities that are doubling in numbers,” she said.

Moreno said more than half of the world’s population now live in cities, but this percentage is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2050.

Apart from an increase in overall population, urban growth was being driven by the economic and social opportunities available in cities. However, she said, it was important for cities to plan well ahead to ensure that they could provide services for new citizens.

In order for cities to plan to absorb growing populations, countries need to have a national urban policy, Moreno noted.

“There are not so many countries that they have national urban policies,” she said. “But China has had that for a long time, they are fully aware about the relevance of their cities in the development of their country.”

One way that an urban growth policy can help is through ensuring that growth is not overly concentrated in a small number of large cities.

“Intermediate (medium-sized) cities are key for the future,” she said. “If that growth of the urban population…is happening only in the megalopolis or in the capitals it is going to be unsustainable, economically, environmentally, socially.”

“If we are able to ensure that the intermediate cities are capturing part of that growth then we will be better prepared for the next 30 years when the (urban) population (will rise) to 70 percent,” she said.

According to Moreno, strategic planning could help cities address environmental, economic and social issues simultaneously.

The city of Medellin in Colombia, she explained, introduced a cable car which addressed transport problems for the city’s poorest residents, while also reducing strain on the city’s roads.

The poorest residents in Medellin live in slums in the mountain and had to travel two hours to get to work in the city, which is in a valley. The city’s geography means that an underground train isn’t possible. The cable car has reduced the travel time to 15 to 20 minutes, she said.

At the international level, Moreno said, there are opportunities for cities with similar geographic features to share their stories of success and failure to help other cities find innovative solutions.

“One of the interesting things about Chinese cities is their capacity to network among themselves in terms of sharing urban solutions and also with other cities of the world,” she added.

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