Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011
People - Demographic trends
Data sources: United Nations Population Division. World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision.

In 2010, 43% of the Asia and the Pacific population lived in urban areas, the second lowest urban proportion of a region in the world; however, in the last two decades the Asia-Pacific urban proportion has risen by 29%, more than any other region.

Between 2005 and 2010, the urbanized proportion of the world’s population overtook the rural population (rising from 49% in 2005 to 51% in 2010); and the urban population continues to grow (the average annual growth between 2005 and 2010 was 1.9%). As of 2010, Asia and the Pacific is the second least urbanized region of the world, with only 43% of the population living in urban areas; however, it has the second fastest urban population growth rate, at an average of 2.0% per annum (2005-2010). Currently, Africa is the least urbanized region and has the highest urban population growth in the world, at an average annual rate of 3.5% (2005- 2010). Across the Asia-Pacific region, the urban proportion and urban population growth rates vary dramatically.

Figure I.5 – Index of urban proportion, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990 to 2010

Figure I.5  Index of urban proportion, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990 to 2010

Within Asia and the Pacific, the Pacific subregion is the most urbanized, with 71% of the population living in cities and towns; however, the urban proportion was already at 71% in 1990. Micronesia (Federated States of ), Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tonga are exceptions, each having less than 25% of their population living in urban areas. In contrast, South and South-West Asia is the least urbanized with only 33% of the population living in urban areas. Exceptions in this subregion are Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey, where approximately 70% of the population lives in urban areas.

Figure I.6 – Urban population, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990 and 2010

Figure I.6  Urban population, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990 and 2010

South and South-West Asia had the fastest urban population growth rate of all the Asian and Pacific subregions at an average of 2.4% per year during 2005-2010. The South-East Asia urban population growth was somewhat slower at 2.2% per year, followed by East and North-East Asia at 2.0% and the Pacific at 1.8%. In North and Central Asia the urban population growth rate has hovered close to zero over the last two decades (0.3% for 2005-2010).

In general, countries with the fastest urban population growth rates are also those with the lowest levels of urbanization. All ten of the Asia-Pacific countries with an average annual urban population growth rate above 3.0% have an urban proportion at or below 40%.

In the Asia-Pacific region, rapid economic growth is closely linked with urbanization levels. By and large the more developed countries have relatively high levels of urbanization – for example, Asia-Pacific high income countries have an average urbanized proportion of 75%, while the LDC’s of the region have an average of 27%.

Rapid economic development has encouraged rural inhabitants to migrate to urban areas to improve their economic opportunities and access to services. Rural-to-urban migration is also caused by such “push” factors as the inability of households to sustain livelihoods in rural areas for economic reasons, conflicts, natural disasters and environmental changes such as desertification and saltwater intrusion.

Other factors in urban growth are population growth and reclassification of rural areas as urban. The population growth rate in Asia and the Pacific is 1.0%, while urban population growth is 2.0%. Hence, assuming that fertility in urban and rural areas is comparable, roughly half of urban population growth comes from rural-tourban migration and reclassification of rural areas as urban; the rest is due to population growth.

Part of the urbanization picture in Asia and the Pacific is the growth of mega-cities – cities whose population exceeds 10 million. Of the world’s 21 mega-cities in 2010, 12 are in Asia, including 7 of the largest 10 cities. Although mega-cities are often portrayed as the face of urbanization in Asia and the Pacific, the reality is that most of the region’s urban population lives in secondary cities and small towns. Specifically, as of 2009, 60% of the urban population in continental Asia lived in cities with a population of less than 1 million, while only 21% lived in cities of from 1 to 5 million.1

Largest 30 urban agglomerations, Asia and the Pacific countries by international ranking, 2010
World rank order
Country Urban agglomeration
Population (millions)
Japan Tokyo
India Delhi
India Mumbai (Bombay)
China Shanghai
India Kolkata (Calcutta)
Bangladesh Dhaka
Pakistan Karachi
China Beijing
Philippines Manila
Japan Osaka-Kobe
Russian Federation Moskva (Moscow)
Turkey Istanbul
Republic of Korea Seoul
China Chongqing
Indonesia Jakarta
China Shenzhen
China Guangzhou, Guangdong
Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2010). World Urbanization Prospects, the 2009 Revision. ESA/P/WP/215. New York.

Current data on the urban slum population are sparse with 2007 data estimates for only 4 Asian countries (none in the Pacific). The last reasonably full set of available data (2005) contains estimates for 15 Asian countries (none in the Pacific). Based on 2005 data, the Asian and Pacific urban slum population exceeded 25% of the total urban population for 14 countries (all countries with available data with the exception of Turkey with 16%). As compared to 1990, 10 of the 15 countries with available data experienced declines in the percentage of the urban population living in slums. The comparison between years should be made with some caution, as cities and towns develop and land prices increase, slum dwellers may be driven out from the inner city, re-emerging in the urban periphery, beyond municipal boundaries. Those beyond municipal boundaries may not appear in official urban statistics.

In 2005, more than 30% of all urban residents in the two most populous Asia-Pacific countries, India and China, lived in slums. In China the proportion of the slum-dwelling urban population was 31% while in India that proportion was 32%.

Figure I.7 – Urban slum population, countries in Asia and the Pacific, 2005

Figure I.7  Urban slum population, countries in Asia and the Pacific, 2005

Cities and climate change

Cities both contribute to climate change and are affected by it. In 2006, the world’s cities generated an estimated 67% of primary energy demand and 71% of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions.2 A regional breakdown for Asia and the Pacific is unfortunately not available. However, another study estimates that China’s largest 35 cities contributed 40% of its energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.3 Based on a 2007 report, Asia and the Pacific untreated solid wastes contribute as much as 75 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year; another indication of cities’ significant contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.4

While the per capita carbon footprints in Asian and Pacific developing countries remain relatively low compared with those of developed countries, they are growing rapidly. As cities account for most such emissions, within a country the per capita urban carbon footprint is likely to be much higher than the per capita national-level carbon footprints.

Cities are also directly affected by climate change. An estimated 54% of the Asian and Pacific urban population lives in low-lying coastal zones.5 Cities in coastal deltas such as Dhaka, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Kolkata, Shanghai and Manila, among others, are highly vulnerable to sea-level rises, storm-water surges and flooding. In addition to the direct impacts of climate change, cities are also affected by climate-change-related impacts in rural areas such as floods, droughts, desertification and soil erosion, which increase food insecurity in cities and provide another “push” factor for rural-to-urban migration. Although the poor contribute the least to climate change, they can be expected to suffer the most from the negative impacts, whether they live in urban or rural areas.

1 Urban Agglomerations 2009. United Nations publication, Sales No. E.10.XIII.7. Available from

2 International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook (Paris: 2008). Available at

3 Shobhakar Dhakal, “GHG emissions from urbanization and opportunities for urban carbon mitigation”, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, vol. 2, No. 4 (October 2010), pp. 277-283. Accessible from

4 United Nations ESCAP and others, “Report: Regional Seminar & Study Visit on Community-based Solid Waste Management”, Quy Nhon City, Viet Nam; 15-16 December 2007. Accessible at

5 UN-HABITAT, State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Harmonious Cities, HS/1031/08E (Nairobi, 2008).

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