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City dwellers to outnumber rural

June 28, 2007|From the Associated Press

LONDON — Most of humanity will be living in cities by next year, raising the threat of more poverty and religious extremism unless the needs of growing urban populations are met, the United Nations said Wednesday.

About 3.3 billion people will live in cities by 2008, the U.N. population agency report said. By 2030, the number of city dwellers is expected to climb to 5 billion.

Without proper planning, cities around the globe face the threat of overwhelming poverty and limited opportunities for youths, said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund.

"We are not ready for them," Obaid said of the arriving masses.

A revival in religious interest has been a surprising characteristic of rapid urbanization, according to the report.

Urbanization is often associated with a shift toward secular values. But the growth of religious movements -- such as radical Islam in the Middle East, Pentecostal Christianity in Latin America and the cult of Shivaji in India -- has been a primarily urban phenomenon, the report said.

When cities fail to meet the needs of growing populations, religious beliefs tend to become extreme, said Obaid, who is also a U.N. undersecretary-general.

"Extremism is often a reaction to rapid and sudden change or to a feeling of exclusion and injustice, and the cities can be a basis for that if they are not well-managed," Obaid said.

And the larger cities aren't the ones to watch, the report said.

"We're focusing on the megacities when the data tell us most of the movement will be coming to smaller cities of 500,000 or more," Obaid said.

Smaller cities may be more flexible in expanding boundaries and adapting policies, but they have fewer resources to deal with a migrant influx. The fund found that some try to keep the poor out by limiting migration and lower-income housing.

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