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UN: World's urban population to skyrocket

Chase Winter
May 17, 2018

India, China and Nigeria will account for one-third of the 2.5 billion additional people living in cities by 2050. Rapid urban population growth poses challenges for sustainable development.

Image: picture-alliance/Prisma

Nearly two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities by 2050, according to UN estimates released Wednesday.

Driven by rural migration to cities and overall population growth, 68 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas by mid-century, compared to 55 percent today, according to the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

Some 2.5 billion more people are expected to live in urban settings by 2050, with almost 90 percent of urban population growth to occur in Asia and Africa. Just three countries — India, China and Nigeria — will account for 35 percent of that growth. India is expected to add 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million and Nigeria 189 million.

Nigeria Lagos Stadtansicht
Nigeria's urban population will soar from about 50 percent today to around 70 percent by 2050. Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Jallanzo

Sustainable development challenge

The world's growing urban population poses challenges to sustainable development, the UN said.

"As the world continues to urbanize, sustainable development depends increasingly on the successful management of urban growth, especially in low-income and lower-middle-income countries," the UN said.

At the same time, proper urban growth management and service provision could benefit populations.

"Well-managed urbanization, informed by an understanding of population trends over the long run, can help to maximize the benefits of agglomeration while minimizing environmental degradation and other potential adverse impacts of a growing number of city dwellers," the UN said.

Read more: Cities are 'crucial' to meeting sustainable development goals


Today, urbanization levels in Asia are about 50 percent and 43 percent in Africa. The two continents account for 90 percent of the world's rural population.

Urbanization is the highest in North America at 82 percent, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean with 81 percent, Europe at 74 percent and Oceania 68 percent.

In 2018, one in eight people live in 33 megacities, each with more than 10 million inhabitants. By 2030, the number of megacities is estimated to jump to 43, mostly in developing countries.

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