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Surprising Science

Urbanization is a Public Health Menace

The pace of urbanization and the development of megacities is causing an untold public health crisis, say international health agencies who study development and pollution. 

What’s the Latest Development?


Two international scientific bodies say the planet’s path toward rapid urbanization is a substantial public health threat, unless new environmental regulations are put quickly into place. A report compiled by the World Meteorological Organization and the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry project notes how quickly megacities—metropolitan areas with populations of more than 10 million—are rising in developing countries. “Many cities in developing countries are expanding rapidly with poor planning and few pollution-reduction measures,” says Zhu Tong, an atmospheric scientist at Peking University in Beijing.

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What’s the Big Idea?

Urban development has outpaced expectations, particularly in the East where subsistence farmers flock to cities in search of education and employment. “There are now 23 megacities in the world, compared with just two 60 years ago. Just over half of the population currently dwells in cities, and with the urban population expected to nearly double by 2050, that proportion is projected to approach 70%.” More than the fact of urbanization itself, the pace of development is causing problems. “The population of city dwellers in China, for example, has risen almost five-fold since 1950, sending energy consumption skyrocketing and putting millions of cars on the roads.”

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