Asia Pacific urbanisation requires rapid response, says UN

22 Oct 15

The United Nations has called for an “urgent response” to the rapid urbanisation of the Asia-Pacific region.

The State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015 report was launched by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) at the Sixth Asian Pacific Urban Forum in Jakarta on Monday.

It outlines the region’s swift urban transformation and warned of the urgent need to make its progression more sustainable.

Dr Shamshad Akhtar, under secretary general of the UN and executive secretary of ESCAP, said: “Urban demographics will magnify our challenges, as they accompany steeper growth in national outputs, which already outpace population growth.

“Growing demand will increase policy and resource pressures. We must recognise the widening gaps that result from our current patterns of growth and do what needs to be done to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

Already the Asia and Pacific region is home to 17 megacities with excess of 10 million inhabitants each, a figure that is expected to rise to 22 million by 2030.

Over the next three years the region is expected to undergo unprecedented population shifts, which will result in more than half of people living in cities. By 2050, that figure is expected to reach 3.2 billion.

Dynamic economies within the region have spurred a phenomenal rise in the size of the middle classes, the report said, but noted widening gaps and growing inequalities threatened to undermine social cohesion.

Numbers of urban poor on the margins of this economic growth are rising, as is youth unemployment and living costs, while access to adequate services and housing are falling.

As well an affordability crisis in a number of the region’s larger cities, many city dwellers are also at a disadvantage in regards to their rights, the report said.

It also recognises immense environmental challenges posed by deteriorating air standards, water pollution and high vulnerability to natural disasters and the impacts of climate change. Half of the region’s urban population living in coastal cities are threatened by sea-level rise, with poor and disadvantaged communities being the most at risk.

The report argues that there are significant opportunities for the region if these challenges can be tackled and urbanisation can be harnessed to support national development efforts.

Akhtar said that “strong leadership and political commitment” at all levels would be essential to managing urbanisation and moving towards a more sustainable urban future.

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