UN: 68 percent of world's population to live in cities by 2050

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.

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's urban population will soar from about 50 percent today to around 70 percent by 2050.

Sustainable development challenge

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

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The 77 Percent | 09.05.2018

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"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.

Related Subjects

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

What makes a city?

Expanding urban populace

The number of people living in cities is growing rapidly. According to the UN, over two-thirds of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050. For cities, that means meeting a booming demand for infrastructure and services - like affordable housing, water, sanitation, employment, schooling, health facilities and transport.

What makes a city?

Slums in the city

Unprecedented urbanization has also led to ever-expanding slums in some cities, like the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town. Millions of people across Africa, Asia and South America live in shanty towns, where they may not have access to clean water, sanitation, transport or jobs.

What makes a city?

Green buildings

While urbanization can lead to overcrowding, it can also bring new opportunities. In a bid to tackle a housing shortage for low income workers in Santa Monica near Los Angeles, the city started building environmentally friendly affordable housing near the center. Colorado Court, equipped with solar panels and a natural gas-powered turbine, was one of the first energy-neutral buildings in the US.

What makes a city?

Clean water

Cities are traditionally built close to rivers or underground waterways to ensure a fresh water supply. But finding a way to deliver water to growing urban populations that is cheap, reliable and sustainable is already proving difficult. Several cities in India, for example, experience frequent shortages and have to rely on water brought in from elsewhere.

What makes a city?

Urban farming

Particularly in developing countries, urbanization has added to pressure on already stretched resources. Poor people who've moved from rural areas may struggle to afford food and other basic supplies. In Kampala, Uganda, urban farming projects on tiny city plots are helping families grow their own food and save money. Sometimes they can also supplement their income by selling surplus produce.

What makes a city?

On your bike

A well-connected transport system is vital for residents to get to work or school. But an increasing city population inevitably means there'll be more people on the roads, creating traffic headaches for locals as well as urban planners. Copenhagen, which is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2025, has a network of cycle paths to encourage people to leave their cars at home and take the bike instead.

What makes a city?

Bogota's buses

The Colombian capital, Bogota, has tried to tackle its congestion problems with the TransMilenio Bus Rapid Transit System, launched in 2000. The buses are used by more than 2 million people a day in the city, although the system has copped criticism for being overcrowded. Next, the city aims to replace its diesel fleet with hybrid and electric buses.

Closed automated waste collection systems Envac (Envac/Image Bank Sweden)

What makes a city?

Waste solutions

Dealing with waste is another important task for any city. Swedish cities burn the trash they produce, converting it into energy. That means only 1 percent of household rubbish ends up in landfill. In the US, San Francisco has banned plastic bags and is aiming to produce zero waste by 2020. Other cities, in the UK for example, have used waste to power public transport.

What makes a city?

Breathing troubles

Cities are a major source of air pollution, but creating a clean and safe environment for residents is also an important aspect of a city's livability. Mexico City is known for its high smog levels. Earlier this year, its air quality crisis came to a head when alarming levels of pollution forced authorities to order cars off the roads and people to stay indoors.

What makes a city?

Smog-guzzling wall

Earlier this year, Mexico City re-implemented an initiative called "Hoy No Circula" ("Don't Drive Today") to ban residents with cars from driving one day a week. Other efforts to curb emissions include reforestation and greening city transport. And there's also this hospital building, the Torre de Especialidades, which is coated in a facade made from special tiles that can suck up smog.

What makes a city?

You've got the power

Cities are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. A number of cities, including Copenhagen, Vancouver and the Swedish city of Malmo have taken a lead, setting targets to curb their output. Freiburg, in southern Germany, has also taken steps, boosting investment in solar power, green transport and recycling. It aims to be climate neutral and rely 100 percent on renewables by 2050.

What makes a city?

Concrete jungle

Green spaces are another vital part of any city - for recreation as well as to help reduce heat in an urban concrete environment. Singapore, rated number one on the Asian Green City Index, is a densely populated island yet it has almost 50 percent green cover. The Garden by the Bay, above, has steel structures shaped like trees that collect solar energy and harvest rainwater to irrigate the park.


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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