Approximately a decade ago, the world officially became a majority urban planet. Along with urbanization a great deal of human progress has come to pass, including great leaps in child survival and development. Aggregate statistics regularly show that on average, compared to their rural peers, urban children have access to better essential services such as health care and education, water and sanitation, energy and better outcomes. This is in part due to factors associated with the so-called ‘urban advantage.’ On average, urban households earn higher incomes, benefit from improved infrastructure, have improved knowledge and reside in greater proximity to services. A closer look at the evidence, however, suggests that not all urban children are benefiting equally, and that the urban advantage for children is perhaps an overgeneralization. Unplanned urbanization, which is taking place in many parts of the world, is leading to sprawl and low urban population density, undermining the advantage of proximity that is a key component of the urban advantage. Informality and insecure residential status are leaving many urban households excluded from government-provided services. The quality of urban services for the marginalized and disadvantaged is often poor. Environmental and health hazards, such as air pollution, unprocessed waste and wastewater, pollution and poor air quality can heighten the risk of disease. Urban dwellers living in informal conditions often have a lower resilience to shocks and stressors such as natural hazards (including those exacerbated by climate change) or economic turbulence. These factors often leave the poorest urban children at a considerable disadvantage compared to their more affluent urban peers, and sometimes even compared to their rural counterparts. This is the ‘urban paradox’: though urban residents on average enjoy better access to services and opportunities, a substantial part of the urban population is being left behind. The presumed urban advantage is not available to all. Poverty, previously predominantly a rural phenomenon, is becoming increasingly urban. As more and more children live in cities and towns, it is becoming increasingly critical to understand the prevalence of the urban paradox and the extent to which it is masked by the narrative of the urban advantage. To better understand this issue, UNICEF examined the best available international evidence for 10 selected indicators of child well-being drawn from the most recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) from 77 mostly low- and middleincome countries. These indicators cover environmental health, health care and identity, education and knowledge, and survival and physical growth outcomes. Much of the analysis focuses on comparing rural and urban populations and comparing the top and bottom wealth quintiles for these populations. The analysis has some limitations. The survey data in this report are given as observed. Since surveys are usually designed to be representative at the national level or larger administrative levels, the analyses can reach the limit of the surveys’ statistical power when comparing quintiles within urban and rural populations. In particular, small gaps between groups may fall within the uncertainty range of the samples surveyed. Furthermore, the definition of an urban area is decided by each country’s statistical office, and definitions therefore vary significantly from country to country. These limitations should be kept in mind when interpreting the results in this report.
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.