Special Report

The World’s 33 Megacities

As of 2009, more than half of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2050, the U.N. projects that two out of every three people live in an urban area. This ongoing shift to big cities could fundamentally change the way we think about many critical issues, like disease control. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted one of the potential drawbacks of living in a highly dense megacity, defined as having populations greater than 10 million.

People in close proximity are more likely to catch and spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Health experts believe New York City has been especially hard-hit by the virus because of its U.S.-leading population density of 28,000 residents per square mile, in addition to the high number of international tourists and its reliance on public transportation. The tourism industry — like others — has grinded to a halt as a result, however. These are the US industries being devastated by the coronavirus.

The susceptibility of these cities to this and other viruses also depends in large part on the response by national and local governments. In early February, China restricted entry to megacities Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. India, home to a number of megacities on this list, instituted a nationwide lockdown in late march. The response to the coronavirus in America has been more fragmented, directed by state and local leaders. Many have shut down non-essential businesses like bars and restaurants. These are the places that have mandated bar and restaurant closings.

To identify the world’s 33 megacities, 24/7 Wall St. used “The World’s Cities in 2018,” the latest edition of the U.N.’s biennial population data booklet. All data on population, population projections, and the percentage of a nation’s population residing in urban areas are from this source.

It is important to note that there are no standard global criteria for determining the boundaries of a city for the purpose of population studies. Some estimates look only at the population inside a city’s administrative boundaries, known as the “city proper” population. Other population measures include surrounding suburban communities that have economic ties to a nearby urban core but can stretch for hundreds of square miles through small farming communities and national parks.

Click here to see the world’s 33 mega cities
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology