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Nairobi, 11 Nov 08

Although worldwide urban growth is expected to slow, a new report by UN-HABITAT is projecting the reverse in Africa with the continent’s urban population being projected to more than double by 2030.

According to the State of African Cities Report of 2008, by last year, Africa’s urban population stood at 373.4 million. However, the figure is expected to rise, the report says. “Projections show that by 2030 there will be 759.4 million African urban dwellers, more than today’s total number of city dwellers in entire Western hemisphere,” it says.

The report which was launched at the just concluded Fourth Session of the World urban Forum held in Nanjing, China  adds that the world’s shortest urban population doubling time, less than nine years, is found in the East Africa region, from 50.6 million in 2007 to a projected 106.7 million by 2017.

Among the report’s highlights is that Africa is in a historic period of demographic change. Around 2030, Africa will enter its urban age with 759.4 million people - half of its total population - living in cities. It is projected that by 2050 there will be more than 1.2 billion African city dwellers. That means that by 2050 there will be more people living in African cities than the combined urban and rural populations of the Western hemisphere.

In 2007, Africa was still the least urbanized region in the world with only 38.7 percent of the continent-wide population residing in settlements classified as cities. The African population is geographically very unevenly distributed and there are significant intra-regional urbanization differences within Africa. The East Africa region is the least urbanized of the world, but urbanizing rapidly. The North Africa and Southern Africa regions have the continent’s highest urbanizations figures and their average annual rates of urbanization, as expected, are now declining. They nevertheless continue to be rapidly urbanizing regions.

The urban population growth in Africa is, contrary to common wisdom, not absorbed by its largest cities. In the foreseeable future, the intermediate cities (towns with less than 500,000 inhabitants) will be the localities where two-thirds of all African urban growth is occurring. The implications of this swift urban growth should be clear: African governments should start strengthening the governance capacities of their intermediate and smaller cities so that these fast-growing towns will be prepared for rapid increase in new and additional demand for urban spatial planning, urban housing, urban services and urban livelihoods.

The larger African cities, however, will also continue to grow, albeit that their annual growth rates are now declining. But since these lower growth rates apply to ever-larger urban populations, these cities will, in absolute terms, still see more and more people added. The larger African cities will absorb the remaining one-third of the continent-wide urban growth and, consequently, both the number and average size of African cities larger than 500,000 inhabitants is on the rise. In 1950, Alexandria and Cairo were the only African cities exceeding one million inhabitants. In 2005, there were 43, with an average size of 2.5 million and a combined population of more than 110 million. In 2015, there will be 53, with an average size of 3.1 million and a combined total exceeding 168 million inhabitants.

Africa’s three giant urban agglomerations, Cairo, Kinshasa and Lagos, continue to rise rapidly in their ranking among the world’s largest metropolitan regions. In 2007, the urban agglomeration of Cairo had 11.9 million inhabitants; Lagos had 9.6 million and Kinshasa 7.8 million. In 2015, Cairo will have 13.4 million; Lagos 12.4 million; and Kinshasa 11.3 million inhabitants - 11th, 17th and 19th respectively among the world’s largest metropolitan regions. Projections show that Kinshasa, with 16.7 million inhabitants, will be Africa’s largest urban agglomeration in 2025, Lagos 15.8 million and Cairo 15.5 million, ranking 11th, 12th and 13th among the world’s largest megacities.

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