For the first time in human history, there soon will be more of us living in cities than in rural areas, the United Nations says in a report on global population trends.
But the bright lights of Paris, London and New York will no longer be what comes to mind when we talk about the great metropolises of the world. It will be congested Dhaka, Jakarta, Lagos and other Asian, African and Latin American urban centers that will become the "megacities" of the 21st century.And as cities in poorer countries grow, those who dwell in them will face ever greater risks of the collapse of basic services, pollution and social conflict, the U.N. Population Fund said in a report released Wednesday.
Like black holes sucking in light, the world's cities are drawing in people and producing babies at such high rates that within 10 years urban dwellers will start to outnumber those living in the country. The world's population, now about 5.8 billion, will reach about 6.6 billion people in 2006, half of them living in cities.
Most urban growth is in Asia, which already has half of the world's 10 largest "megacities" - Tokyo, Shanghai, Bombay, Beijing and Calcutta - the report says.
Tokyo, with a current population of about 26 million, will continue to be the world's largest city for the next two decades, reaching a population of about 29 million in 2015.
New York, one of the world's largest cities for most of this century, will drop from the top-10 list by 2015. The Big Apple is being overtaken by Mexico City, Dhaka, Karachi, Sao Paulo, Jakarta and Lagos.
If current trends hold, the report says, there will be no North American or European cities among the 10 biggest by the year 2015, and only two - New York and Los Angeles - among the top 20.
The number of cities in the world with a million or more people will have increased from 83 in 1950 to more than 560 in 2015.
Urbanization is a long-term global trend, but it is most pronounced in poor countries, which are least able to cope with its pressures. There should be a better balance between rural and urban areas, and among small, medium-sized and large cities in these developing countries, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said in a statement released with the report.
"The urban future carries many risks for the physical environment and natural resources, for social cohesion and for individual rights," the report says.
Already a third of the world's urban population - about 600 million people - do not have the means to meet their basic needs, such as clean water and sewage disposal.
But all is not bleak. Health conditions and rates of literacy and social mobility are all higher in cities than in rural areas, the report added. Moreover, city women generally fare better than their rural cousins in terms of finding wage-paying jobs and access to education and birth control.
The U.N. agency says improving educational and employment opportunities for women is one of the best ways to curb population growth.
The report is likely to be the basis for discussion when delegates from U.N.-member countries gather in Istanbul next month for a special conference on global population problems. A 1994 U.N. conference in Cairo gave broad support to measures to curb population growth, including recommendations concerning birth control.
But Vatican opposition to many birth-control measures prevented a consensus.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)