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.