Urban areas: Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean is the most urbanized region in the developing world. Between 1972 and 2000 the urban population rose from 176.4 million to 390.8 million, prompted by better services and job opportunities compared to rural areas. During this period, the percentage of the population living in urban areas increased from 58.9 to 75.3 per cent, accounting for 79.8 per cent of the population in South America, 67.3 per cent in Central America and 63.0 per cent in the Caribbean (compiled from United Nations Population Division 2001). This urban-rural ratio is similar to that seen in highly industrialized countries.

With the exception of Brazil, urbanization patterns typically involve a single, very large city per country. In addition to an expansion of existing urban areas, urbanization has also taken place in some rural districts - 61 per cent of the inhabitants of the Amazon region now live in urban areas. Deep inequalities persist in most of the countries in the region and much poverty is concentrated in urban areas. For example, one-third of the population of São Paulo and 40 per cent of the population of Mexico City live at or below the poverty line. Between 1970 and 2000, the number of urban poor in the region rose from 44 million to 220 million people (UNCHS 2001a).

Although environmental problems are not limited to the largest cities, their impact is most evident there. Urban environmental problems include the concentration of domestic and industrial solid wastes, lack of sewage and air pollution.