7 April 2008As the number of people living in cities this year outranks the number living in rural areas for the first time, and 19 ‘megacities’ emerge with more than 10 million inhabitants, top United Nations officials today stressed the importance of understanding how successful cities have dealt with pollution, slums and other ills. “Despite their problems, large cities produced better health outcomes than smaller ones,” said Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, as he opened this year’s session of the UN Commission on Population and Development.He said that, as they confront additional population and uneven access to services and resources, local authorities must be able to tailor assistance to their particular settings. Resources for planning must be made available, however, other officials warned. The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, said that the decline in international funding for family planning would slow global efforts to reduce poverty, improve health and empower women. “In fact, funding for family planning as a percentage of all population assistance has dropped considerably, from 55 per cent in 1995 to 7 per cent in 2005,” she said.“The victims of this funding gap,” Ms. Obaid said, “are poor women in poor countries who cannot exercise their reproductive rights and plan their families. It is a serious problem that needs to be urgently addressed.”The Commission’s session, focusing on the growing urbanization of the world population and its implications for development issues such as poverty and the environment, will run until 11 April.