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Coping with the challenges of Asia's rapid urban population growth

Oct 27. 2019
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By The Nation

The urban population has been growing rapidly in Asia, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The report comes as Bangkok fights the adverse effects of rising harmful toxic air with prevalent PM2.5, particles or droplets in the air that are two and half microns or less in diameter.

According to the ADB report, looking at the average growth rates of urban population from 1970 to 2017, developing Asia’s urban population grew 3.4 per cent, compared to 2.6 per cent for other developing economies and 1 per cent for developed economies. The highest growth rate is in East Asia at 3.7 per cent followed by Southeast Asia at 3.6 per cent and South Asia at 3.3 per cent.

The urban population from 1970 to 2050 rose from 0.4 billion people in 1970 to 1.8 billion people, up five fold in 2017. From 2017 onwards, the urban population in developing Asia is projected to reach 3 billion, up by 70 per cent by 2050.

Many cities are expanding beyond their administrative boundaries. The "natural cities" capture actual urban footprint using nighttime lights satellite imagery.

A total of 1,459 natural cities are identified in developing Asia, hosting 34.7 per cent of the population on 2.3 per cent of land area and some cities have connected to form city clusters such as Delhi-Chandigarh in India, Shanghai-Nanjing and Guangzhou-Huizhou in China. In Thailand, Bangkok has expanded beyond the capital and it now covers the nearby provinces of Samut Prakarn, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi and Nakhon Pathom and Samut Sakhon, said Hideaki Iwasaki, the bank’s country director for Thailand.

The report found that 28 city clusters in developing Asia have a population of 10 million or more.

Asian cities benefit from size, a so-called “agglomeration economies”.

Workers and entrepreneurs who live in big cities will obtain many benefits such as the workers can receive higher wages while the entrepreneurs can host more innovative firms, but they also face hindrances such as traffic congestion in many cities and the high cost of housing. Bangkok and other large cities also face rising air pollution due largely to traffic congestion resulting in vehicle emissions of toxic gases that threaten environmental sustainability. 

ABD has provided solutions to this problem for cities and urban systems by building multi-modal public transport systems, which connect between urban areas and cities, providing affordable housing, planning on land usage and regulations including economics to maintain environmental sustainability.



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