India’s urban population to stand at 675 mn in 2035, behind China’s 1 bn: UN

The United Nations-Habitat’s World Cities Report 2022, released on Wednesday, said that rapid urbanisation was only temporarily delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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India's total fertility rate is expected to dip from 2.01 presently to 1.78 in 2050 and 1.69 in 2100, compared to the global average of 2.3 at present. (File)

India’s urban population is estimated to stand at 675 million in 2035, the second highest behind China’s one billion, the UN has said in a report, noting that after the COVID-19 pandemic, the global urban population is back on track to grow by another 2.2 billion by 2050.The United Nations-Habitat’s World Cities Report 2022, released on Wednesday, said that rapid urbanisation was only temporarily delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global urban population is back on track to grow by another 2.2 billion people by 2050, it said. India’s urban population is projected to be 675,456,000 in 2035, growing from 483,099,000 in 2020 to 542,743,000 in 2025 and 607,342,000 in 2030, the report said. By 2035, the percentage of population in India at mid-year residing in urban area will be 43.2 per cent, it said.

China’s urban population in 2035 is projected at 1.05 billion while the urban population in Asia will be 2.99 billion in 2035 and that in South Asia 987,592,000, it said.The report said that very big economies like China and India have a large share of the world’s population and their development trajectories have greatly influenced global inequality.

“In Asia, in the last two decades, China and India experienced rapid economic growth and urbanisation, which led to a massive reduction in the number of people living in poverty,” it said.The report said that with existing urban populations continuing to grow naturally through rising birth rates, particularly in lower income countries, the urban population is forecast to grow from 56 per cent of the global total in 2021 to 68 per cent by 2050.

The large-scale flight from major cities in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to the perceived safety of the countryside or smaller towns was a short-term response that will not alter the course of global urbanisation.Despite greater incidence of the virus in urban areas and the economic difficulties created by the pandemic, cities are once again serving as beacons of opportunity to people in search of employment, education and training or taking refuge from conflict, it said.

The report said that “cities are here to stay, and the future of humanity is undoubtedly urban,” though it says that levels of urbanisation are uneven, with growth slowing in many high-income countries.“Urbanisation remains a powerful 21st century mega-trend,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, which produced the report.“That entails numerous challenges, which were further exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic. But there is a sense of optimism that COVID-19 has provided us with the opportunity to build back differently. With the right policies and the right commitment from governments, our children can inherit an urban future that is more inclusive, greener, safer and healthier.

“We must start by acknowledging that the status quo leading up to 2020 was in many ways an unsustainable model of urban development, and take the best practices learned in our responses to COVID-19 and the climate crisis,” it said.The report said that urban poverty and inequality remain one of the most intractable and highly complex problems confronting cities.

“The notoriously overcrowded slums in Mumbai, India; Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro; chronic homelessness in London; and persistent concentrated poverty in Baltimore, US, all send one clear message to policymakers: tackling urban poverty and inequality is one of the key priorities for building inclusive and equitable urban futures,” the report said.

Noting the challenge of climate change, the report said that cities, especially those in warm climates or low-lying coastal areas, face existential threats due to the risks and impacts of climate change and extreme weather events “such as increased heatwaves in Delhi, India, and the pervasive flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Durban, South Africa.” Further, in response to the pandemic, many governments worldwide imposed lockdowns and mobility restrictions, the result of which were major improvements in air and water quality.

“Many cities around the world, especially those in developing countries such as China and India, reported unprecedented reductions in the level of airborne pollutants such as PM2.5, PM10, CO2, NO2 and SO2. Declines were significant in cities that imposed lockdowns given the dominance of road transportation and associated emissions in urban areas,” the report said.

Highlighting the implications of transportation trends during the COVID-19 pandemic, it said that in some countries like India, car dependency increased since the emergence of COVID-19, and people formerly interested in active and public transportation shifted towards private cars.“These trends show that in the absence of safe, affordable and reliable public transportation systems, the future of urban mobility could continue to be dominated by private motorised vehicles.

“If this scenario emerges, it will have major implications for climate change mitigation and could exacerbate already challenging issues such as air pollution, congestion, and road safety,” the report said.It further said that the future of effective multilevel governance must be attentive to the equitable representation of women.

“The most progressive forms of empowerment of women often come from civil society, such as the self-help organisation Kudumbashree, which has over 4 million female members and played an instrumental role in removing absolute poverty from the state of Kerala, India,” it said.It also noted that urban extension has surpassed urban population growth globally and, due to that expansion, many cities have grown beyond the boundaries of their central municipality.

“Informal settlements on the edge of urban jurisdictions are vulnerable to eviction due to unclear regulatory frameworks, as was demonstrated by a recent large-scale eviction in India,” it said.The report said that “smart city” has become a globally popular catchphrase and major policy paradigm for technology-driven urban innovation and development.

“Many municipal administrations choose to adopt a smart city agenda, to provide strategic and programmatic direction for urban development. They are often encouraged by national governments that use competitions to entice cities to invest in smart city programmes, as illustrated by India’s 100 Smart Cities Mission and the Republic of Korea’s Smart Challenge,” the report added.

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