Most people still live in the countryside but it is estimated that by 2000, half of the 6.2 billion population of the planet will be urban; by 2025 about 60% will live in urban areas. For many life in the country is hard. Disenchanted people, especially the young, come to urban areas in search of an easier life and better jobs. Each year towns and cities in the developing world must absorb more than 80 million new people. Communications, transport, services and water supplies crack under the strain. The result is, at best, urban sprawl and, at worst, mushrooming urban slums or shanty towns. About one third of city-dwellers in developing countries live in slums and shanty towns, where clean water is scarce, fuel expensive, refuse rarely collected, disease endemic and violence common. In these countries, an average of 2.4 people live in each room, a quarter have no sanitation, and infant mortality in slums is three times the wealthier urban areas rate. Worldwide, some 100 million people have no form of shelter at all. There is also a gulf in standards of living within the cities of the rich world, where an urban underclass is caught in a vicious circle of deterioration and neglect. The costs of these conditions are staggering, not just in terms of human suffering but, both directly and indirectly, for society itself. Almost everywhere, civic authorities have been unable to cope with the challenge of providing adequate housing. Few mechanisms have been found for financing, while grassroots movements are often thwarted by inflexible policies and institutions.
The proportion of the population living in urban areas in the European Region has continued to increase, largely owing to migration. In the year 2000, about 80% of the total population of the European Region will be urban. Many large cities now show indications of environmental stress, including high noise levels in residential areas, increasing levels of homelessness, greater waste generation and traffic congestion. However, the air quality of some cities has improved in the 1990s.