A United Nations report coinciding with World Population Day reveals that for the first time in history, more people now live in cities than rural areas.

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There are now 6.6 billion of us – a figure expected to surge dramatically by 37 percent to 9.076 billion by the year 2050 according to the UN report, with Asia and Africa leading the growth.

World Population Day on July 11 is aimed at focusing on efforts to turn the challenges of population growth into opportunities.

“What happens in the cities of Africa and Asia and other regions will shape our common future,” says Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund. “We must abandon a mindset that resists urbanization and act now to begin a concerted global effort to help cities unleash their potential to spur economic growth and solve social problems.”

“This wave of urbanization is without precedent. The changes are too large and too fast to allow planners and policymakers simply to react: In Africa and Asia, the number of people living in cities increases by approximately 1 million, on average, each week. Leaders need to be proactive and take far-sighted action to fully exploit the opportunities that urbanization offers,” says Obaid.

The key theme chosen for World Population Day 2007 is Men as Partners in Maternal Health. According to Obaid the day represents a time highlight the need for commitment and action to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. “It is time for all men—as fathers, brothers, husbands, community and religious leaders, and government officials—to become partners in maternal health. Together we can make this the last day that 1,440 women died during pregnancy and childbirth. Let us go forward with the message: No woman should die giving life. And let us do all we can to promote the right of every woman to enjoy a life of health, dignity and equal opportunity.”

William Cobbett of the World Bank, Manager of Cities Alliance, a Bank-supported global coalition of cities aimed at reducing urban poverty, said the UN report identifies a need to accept the right of poor people to move to cities and adopt a broad and long-term vision of the use of urban space.

Key findings of the report include:

Four of the top 10 “mega-cities” (those of at least 10 million population) are in South Asia – Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Dhaka. Asia is home to three-fifths of the world’s population, but it will be Africa that leads the way in population growth in coming decades, the report says.

Africa is projected to more than double its population by 2050 –from its current 945.3 million to 1.937 billion, with 88 percent of that growth occurring in the Sub-Sahara, home to many of the world’s poorest nations. While Africa is still predominantly rural, much of coming growth will be in urban areas – from 294 million in 2000 to 742 million in 2030.

In other developing regions, rapid population growth will prevail, the UN report says, with the Arab states growing from 335 million to 598.5 million by 2050, and Latin and Caribbean countries from 576.5 million to 782.9 million.

North America is projected to grow at a much slower rate between now and 2050 – with Canada’s population rising from 32.9 million to 42.8 million and the U.S. from 303.9 million to 395 million.

Europe and some former Soviet Union countries are the only regions expected to decline in population. Europe is projected to decrease from 727.7 million to 653 million and Russia from 141.9 million to 111.8 million. Ukraine is seen experiencing the biggest decline – from 45.5 million to 26.4 million, a trend driven by a low fertility rate as well as continuing migration, including internal mobility within the FSU

While the world’s 20 mega-cities get a lot of attention, more than half of the urban world lives in cities of less 500,000 population, the report says.

For further information visit the World Bank Website and the United Nations Population Fund.

via Gizmag