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Cities not keeping up with rapid growth, failing millions of children worldwide

UNICEF’s 2012 State of the World’s Children report calls for new approach to growing urban challenges

Toronto, February 28, 2012 – The failure of cities to keep up with rapidly growing populations has led to larger inequalities among millions of children worldwide UNICEF revealed today in a new report titled The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World.

An urban childhood is increasingly becoming the norm. Currently more than half of the world’s population lives in cities and by 2050 this number is expected to grow to two thirds.“Child rights must become a more prominent part of the urban agenda,” says David Morley UNICEF Canada’s President and CEO. “Assumptions are made that proximity to hospitals and schools ensure access but this simply is not true. The hardships endured by millions of children in cities are too often invisible.”

The most disadvantaged children in urban areas face threats to their survival, health, education, shelter, safety and their rights as citizens.

Inequality and vulnerability are reinforced when the poor are denied official documentation, rendering them invisible to policy makers. More than one third of children in urban slum areas go unregistered at birth and this rises to half of all children in urban parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Vast numbers of these children also come from families who lack title to their homes. With no protection against forcible eviction they can lose the little they have without warning or redress.

Urban youth also face distinct challenges including increased threats from economic shocks, violence, crime and natural disasters. For example young people frustrated by few economic opportunities accounted for a significant proportion of demonstrators in the recent wave of protests across cities in the Middle East and North Africa. In much of this region the number of skilled jobs has simply not matched demand.

Urban poor are also particularly vulnerable to rising food and fuel prices as they already spend 50 to 80 per cent of their income on food. In comparison, the average Canadian family spends only 10 per cent.

“There is growing evidence that the epicenter of poverty and undernutrition among children is gradually shifting from rural to urban areas. Children growing up in urban poverty face a particularly complex set of challenges to their development and fulfillment of their rights,” says Morley.

The 2012 report calls for a new approach to addressing urban challenges which puts children at the heart of urban development and focuses on policies that prioritize the needs of the most disadvantaged.

Key findings in UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2012

• More data is needed to better understand the inequalities faced by urban poor, particularly children. This data must go beyond national averages and rural-urban comparisons so the challenges people living in urban poverty face are better understood and can be effectively addressed.
• Hunger and under nutrition have grown in cities. The rates at which children in urban poverty are undernourished or die before reaching the age of five can rival rates in poor rural areas.
• Access to improved water and sanitation is not keeping pace with urban population growth. In slums water can cost up to 50 times as much as in other neighbourhoods in the same city.
• Natural hazards such as cyclones and mudslides become acute disasters in urban areas, their impact is intensified by overcrowding, flimsy homes and long-term failures in the provision of health, water and sanitation services.
• Policy makers must ensure urban planning and investments are grounded in a commitment to equity and human rights.

For more information on these and other key findings in UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World report, please see the Children in an Urban World Infographics.

About The State of the World’s Children Report

The State of the World’s Children is UNICEF’s authoritative annual assessment of the well-being of children worldwide, with country by country and region by region statistics. Every year the report explores a specific challenge to child well-being. The 2012 edition highlights children living in urban areas.

UNICEF is the world’s leading child-focused humanitarian and development agency. Through innovative programs and advocacy work, we save children’s lives and secure their rights in virtually every country. Our global reach, unparalleled influence on policymakers, and diverse partnerships make us an instrumental force in shaping a world in which no child dies of a preventable cause. UNICEF is entirely supported by voluntary donations and helps all children, regardless of race, religion or politics.

For further information:
Media Relations Specialist, Media Relations Specialist, UNICEF Canada, Office: 416-482-4662 ext. 8892; Cell: 416-806-2764, [email protected]