Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2012
 
   
A. Demographic trends
 
A.2. Urbanization

Urbanization is the increase in the proportion of people living in towns and cities. In the Asian and Pacific region, urbanization is driven by three factors: natural population growth, rural to urban migration and the reclassification of rural areas into urban areas. While there are significant differences in the impact of these drivers across the region, in general the impact of migration is decreasing in significance.

Nearly half of the population of Asia and the Pacific now lives in urban areas.

In 2012, 1.96 billion people – an estimated 46 per cent of the region’s population – lived in urban areas, compared with less than 40 per cent 10 years earlier. By 2020, the urban population is estimated to reach 50 per cent, an absolute growth in numbers of approximately 500 million people.

Figure A.2-1
Proportion of the population living in urban areas in Asia and the Pacific and its subregions, 1980 to 2012

Figure A.2-1 Proportion of the population living in urban areas in Asia and the Pacific and its subregions, 1980 to 2012 While the region continues to urbanize, the characteristics of this growth have distinct subregional and country-level deviations. The Pacific has the largest proportion of its population living in urban areas, which has remained at about 70 per cent since 1980, although rates in Australia and New Zealand are substantially higher than those in Pacific island developing economies. As in the Pacific, the urban proportion in North and Central Asia has remained stable since 1980 and has even declined in recent decades, but grew at 0.3 per cent in 2012 to 63 per cent. The rapid increase in urbanization in East and North-East Asia since 1980 is being driven more and more by China, and the urban proportion of the subregion reached 57 per cent in 2012. The urban proportion of the population in South-East Asia and in South and South-West Asia has grown at a rate comparable to the overall regional average, and in 2012 it was 45 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively.

The proportion of people living in urban areas is three times greater in the richest countries than in the poorest.

Overall, urbanization is associated with higher levels of development in the region. The percentage of people living in urban areas in 2012 averaged 30 per cent in low-income economies and 90 per cent in high-income economies, a threefold difference. Many of the benefits of urbanization for a country are the result of economies of scale, which allow for a more cost-effective delivery of critical services, such as transport, health and education. But the region, either through the pressures and demands of rapid rates of growth, or through poorly managed urbanization, also faces considerable challenges. Some of these, such as inadequate access to water (see topic D.2 on access to water and sanitation), the spread of communicable diseases, and shortages of adequate and affordable shelter, can be quantified. Less quantifiable, but an area of increasing interest, are key environmental indicators, which would help to support a shift to more sustainable patterns of urban growth. One indicator in this regard is the link between rising per capita income and higher greenhouse gas emissions caused by the increased consumption of fossil fuels. During 2000-2008, average emissions per capita in Asia grew by 97 per cent while those for the world grew by only 18 per cent;1 and much of the increase in the region was directly related to the growth of its urban areas.

Figure A.2-2
Urban population in Asia and the Pacific by income grouping, 2012

Figure A.2-2 Urban population in Asia and the Pacific by income grouping, 2012

The rate of urbanization in Asia and the Pacific is greater than that in any other region of the world, and the highest growth rates are found in the poorest and least urbanized countries.

In 1980, less than 30 per cent of the region’s population lived in urban areas. This was approximately the same proportion as in Africa and 10 percentage points lower than the global average. By 2010, the gap between Asia and the Pacific and the rest of the world had reduced by one third to 6.8 percentage points and had diverged by more than 5 percentage points from Africa. This trend is set to continue and by 2050 the urban population of the Asian and Pacific region is forecasted to be within 2.5 percentage points of the world average.

Figure A.2-3
Urban population, world and world regions, 1980-2050

Figure A.2-3 Urban population, world and world regions, 1980-2050Much of the urbanization in the region is being driven by China and India. Urbanization in China has been driven both by rural to urban migration and by the incorporation of rural areas into urban areas, causing the urban population to more than triple from 190 million in 1980 to 669 million in 2010, and the percentage of people living in urban areas to more than double. In 2010, one third of the urban population in the region lived in China.

Although China is driving the pace of urbanization in Asia and the Pacific, the percentage of people living in urban areas has increased since 1980 in almost every country in the region. The notable exceptions are countries of North and Central Asia, such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where the population living in urban areas has decreased by an average of 5 percentage points since 1980.

The pace of urbanization in the region has varied due to many factors, particularly income level. In 1980, the urban population was over 70 per cent in high-income economies and about 25 per cent in the other income-level groupings. Uppermiddle- income economies then experienced accelerated urbanization, diverging from the other poorer economies and breaking the 50 per cent urban population barrier in 2008. While the pace of urbanization in lower-middle-income and low-income economies was initially slower, the percentage of the population living in urban areas is now increasing at a rate similar to that of upper-middle-income economies. In highincome economies, the increase in the percentage of people living in urban areas is occurring much more slowly.

Figure A.2-4
Proportion of the population living in urban areas in Asia and the Pacific by income grouping, 1980 to 2050

Figure A.2-4 Proportion of the population living in urban areas in Asia and the Pacific by income grouping, 1980 to 2050

Rapidly growing cities in the region’s poor countries face the additional challenges of vulnerability and a lack of resilience to disasters. For example, 51.6 per cent of the urban population of Cambodia lives in Phnom Penh, and 98.5 per cent of them reside in flood risk areas.2

More than half a billion people in Asia and the Pacific continue to live in slums.

In 2009, over half a billion people in Asia and the Pacific, equal to 30 per cent of the urban population (a decrease from 50 per cent in 1990), were living in slums, and did not have access to at least one of the following basic necessities: security of tenure, structural quality and durability of dwelling, access to safe water, access to sanitation facilities, and sufficient living area. This problem is particularly acute in low-income economies in the region, where nearly two thirds of urban dwellers live in slums, and particularly in Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, where the figure is closer to four fifths.

Figure A.2-5
Urban slum population, world and world regions, 1990-2007

Figure A.2-5 Urban slum population, world and world regions, 1990-2007Despite the rapid pace of urbanization in Asia and the Pacific, the proportion of urban dwellers living in slums decreased faster than the global average. The pace of the decline has been particularly high in lower-middle-income economies, such as India and Indonesia, where the percentage of urban dwellers living in slums has fallen by more than 20 percentage points. Nevertheless, it is important to note that, while percentages are decreasing, absolute numbers continue to grow in several countries in the region, including Bangladesh, China and Pakistan. In absolute numbers, Asia and the Pacific remains the region with the highest number of slum dwellers worldwide.

Figure A.2-6
Urban slum population, Asia and the Pacific by income grouping, 1990 and 2005

Figure A.2-6 Urban slum population, Asia and the Pacific by income grouping, 1990 and 2005

The largest cities in the world are found in Asia and the Pacific, but patterns of urbanization and its outcomes vary across the region.

While urban population growth and urbanization are dramatically reshaping the region, there are a number of distinct and diverse characteristics with regard to their size and formation. This is particularly the case concerning the growth of urban agglomerations. An agglomeration is a city or town and its adjacent territory populated at urban density levels and contained within the contours of a contiguous territory without regard to administrative boundaries. Of the largest 100 urban agglomerations in the world, 52 are found in the Asian and Pacific region and over one fifth are in China alone.

The number of people living in urban agglomerations in the region has increased by 77 per cent from 465 million in 1990 to 823 million in 2010, driven by a 157 per cent increase in China from 123 million to 317 million.

Given the decline in the percentage of people living in urban areas in North and Central Asia, it is not surprising that the smallest percentage increase in the number of people living in agglomerations from 1990 to 2010 was in Uzbekistan or that in Armenia and Georgia these figures actually decreased.

The growth in both the number and the size of the region’s megacities (agglomerations with a population in excess of 10 million people) continues to be an important regional and global trend. By 2025, the total number of megacities worldwide is expected to reach 37, with 22 in Asia alone. In addition, several countries are still characterized by high rates of urban primacy. In 2010, Kabul (Afghanistan), Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Yerevan (Armenia) each accounted for over 50 per cent of the total urban population in their countries.,3

However, most of the region’s urban population is located in small and medium-sized towns and cities, which are in large part the source of higher growth rates. Their growth and characteristics will be important to chart in contrast with those of megacities.

Finally, urbanization in the region is becoming increasingly differentiated by contrasting rates of demographic transition (see topic A.1, on population). While several countries in South and South-West Asia and in the Pacific continue to have highly youthful migrant and urban populations, towns and cities in East and North- East Asia are increasingly facing significant challenges from ageing populations, including the need to redevelop urban infrastructure and services to meet the needs of current and future older populations.

Figure A.2-7
Population living in agglomerations of 750,000 or more inhabitants, Asia and the Pacific, 1990 and 2010

Figure A.2-7 Population living in agglomerations of 750,000 or more inhabitants, Asia and the Pacific, 1990 and 2010

Box A.2-1
Defining and measuring the city: more than just a statistical exercise

Every country defines “urban” independently, creating a challenge when measuring cities and making comparisons. An urban settlement can be characterized by administrative status, population size, population density and the extent of non-agricultural activity. A city may be reclassified several times due to changing economic or political conditions. Boundaries of urban agglomerations can change when determining which adjacent areas should be included.

Population density tends to gradually diminish as it moves outward from a city center, making it difficult to definitively mark an urban boundary. Countries in the Asian and Pacific region also use different indicators to define urban centres. For example, Thailand includes all municipal areas under the definition of urban, regardless of other criteria. India, on the other hand, uses a minimum population of 5,000, a minimum density of 1,000 per m2 and at least 75 per cent of the adult male population employed in pursuits other than agriculture.a

Such exercises are not merely of statistical importance. It is essential to have accurate data on cities and their populations in order to manage and respond to key dynamics. This greater understanding is also essential for the formulation of social, environmental and infrastructure policies that can guide the development of sustainable and inclusive cities.

____________________
a ESCAP and UN-Habitat, The State of Asian Cities 2010/2011 (Fukuoka, Japan, UN-Habitat, 2010).

Further reading

Asian Development Bank. Green urbanization in Asia. In Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012, 43rd ed. Mandaluyong City, Philippines, 2012.

Center for Economic Research, ESCAP and United Nations Development Programme. Urbanization in Central Asia: Challenges, Issues and Prospects. Tashkent: Center for Economic Research, 2013.

ESCAP and UN-Habitat. The State of Asian Cities 2010/2011. Fukuoka, Japan: UN-Habitat, 2010.

UN-Habitat. State of the World’s Cities 2012/2013: Prosperity of Cities. Nairobi, 2013.

United Nations. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision. New York, 2012.

Technical notes

Urban defined There is no common definition of “urban” in the region. Definitions of urban areas may be based on administrative criteria, population size and/ or density, economic functions or availability of certain infrastructure and services or other criteria. Because many countries define “urban” according to administrative criteria, urbanization levels and urban population growth rates may be underreported. Additionally, most growth occurs in the urban periphery, which may be beyond the boundary of “urban” and therefore may not be reflected in official statistics. Cross-country comparability of statistics related to urbanization is therefore limited.

Indicators

Urban population (percentage of population, percentage change per annum)
Population living in areas classified as urban according to the administrative criteria used by each country or area. Aggregate calculations: Weighted averages using population as weight (percentage of population); weighted averages using urban population (WPP2012) as weight (percentage change per annum). Missing data are not imputed.

Population density (population per km2)
Number of people per km2 of surface area. Total surface area comprises total land, inland and tidal water areas. Indicator calculations: Population divided by surface area (from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, AQUASTAT database, 7 January 2011). Aggregate calculations: Sum of individual country values of population divided by the sum of individual country surface areas. Missing data are not imputed.

Population living in urban agglomerations of 750,000 or more inhabitants (thousands, percentage of population)
An agglomeration is defined as a city or town proper, together with the suburban fringe or thickly settled territory lying outside of, but adjacent to, the city boundaries. Data are presented for agglomerations of 750,000 or more inhabitants. Aggregate calculations: Sum of individual country values (thousands); weighted averages using population (WPP2012) as weight (percentage of population). Missing data are not imputed.

Urban slum population (% of urban population)
Urban slum households, reported as a share of the urban population. A slum household is a group of individuals living under the same roof who lack one or more (in some cities, two or more) of the following: security of tenure, structural quality and durability of dwelling, access to safe water, access to sanitation facilities, and sufficient living area. Urban slum households are located within an area classified as urban according to administrative criteria used by each country or area. Aggregate calculations: Weighted averages using urban population as weight. Missing data are not imputed.

Sources

Source of population and urbanization rate data: WPP2012. Estimated demographic trends are projections based on censuses, administrative data and surveys provided by countries through an annual questionnaire. Population data from all sources are evaluated by the United Nations for completeness, accuracy and consistency. Data obtained: 14 June 2013.

Source of population of urban agglomerations data: United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision (database available from http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/index.htm). Wherever possible, data are classified according to the concept of urban agglomeration, using the metropolitan area or city proper. The United Nations makes some adjustments in conformance with the urban agglomeration concept. Data obtained: 2 August 2012.

Source of urban slum population data: United Nations Millennium Indicators Database. Data Obtained: 2 August 2012.
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1 Asian Development Bank, “Green urbanization in Asia”, in Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012, 43rd ed. (Mandaluyong City, Philippines, 2012), p. 13.
2 Ibid., p. 15.
3 United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision (New York, 2012).
 
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