Special Report

The World’s 33 Megacities

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18. Lagos, Nigeria
> 2018 population: 13.5 million
> 2000-2018 population growth: +84.9%
> Pct. of Nigeria’s population: 6.9%
> Est. 2030 population: 20.60 million

Lagos, in southwestern Nigeria, is one of Africa’s three megacities on this list. The city has rapidly become a center of regional commerce, finance, and cargo transport. Spurred by security concerns, the Nigerian government moved the capital from Lagos to the centrally located planned city of Abuja in 1991, but this did not stop Lagos from becoming the hub of Africa’s largest economy. Lagos alone makes up well over half of Nigeria’s industrial and commercial activity, boosted by investment in infrastructure as the city tries to ease congestion.

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17. Manila, Philippines
> 2018 population: 13.5 million
> 2000-2018 population growth: +35.4%
> Pct. of Philippines’ population: 12.7%
> Est. 2030 population: 16.84 million

The capital of the Philippines is the largest of the three Southeast Asian megacities (the other two are Jakarta and Bangkok), and it is the nation’s economic, political, and cultural center. The sprawling coastal metropolis is located on Luzon, the country’s largest island. The city is the country’s manufacturing, transport, and financial center.

Manila produces chemicals, textiles, and shoes, among other products. Metro Manila — which includes the city proper and the surrounding metropolitan area — suffers from problems familiar to other big cities in developing countries, including air pollution, traffic congestion, street crime, and urban poverty In 2020, city officials broke ground on the country’s first subway system.

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16. Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India
> 2018 population: 14.7 million
> 2000-2018 population growth: +12.1%
> Pct. of India’s population: 1.1%
> Est. 2030 population: 17.58 million

The capital of India’s West Bengal state is the one of five megacities in India and the country’s third most populous behind Delhi and Mumbai. Located on the banks of the Hugli River about 100 miles from the Bay of Bengal, Kolkata is a historic transit point and the main urban center of eastern India.

Originally known for its tea production, Kolkata’s economy includes sectors such as textiles, information technology, production of leather goods, and agriculture. As in other rapidly urbanizing parts of the developing world, Kolkata faces immense challenges in fixing traffic congestion, housing, and urban poverty. One of the city’s biggest problems is urban sprawl, which outpaces the local government’s ability to provide basic services and infrastructure.

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15. Istanbul, Turkey
> 2018 population: 14.8 million
> 2000-2018 population growth: +68.7%
> Pct. of Turkey’s population: 18.0%
> Est. 2030 population: 17.12 million

Over more than 2,500 years, Istanbul has grown from an ancient Greek colony (Byzantium) into the largest metropolitan area in the region that bridges Europe and Asia. For much of that history, Istanbul has been one of the most coveted cities in the world due to its location straddling the global trade chokepoint of the Bosporus Strait.

Today, about 54% of Turkey’s imports and 47% of its exports pass through the city. Istanbul, located about 220 miles from Turkey’s capital, Ankara, is the economic and cultural center of the country. In addition to being a popular tourist destination, the city accounts for nearly 40% of the country’s GDP, while employing over a third of the country’s industrial labor force.

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14. Chongqing, China
> 2018 population: 14.8 million
> 2000-2018 population growth: +88.7%
> Pct. of China’s population: 1.0%
> Est. 2030 population: 19.65 million

Located on the banks of the upper Yangtze River in central China, Chongqing is the country’s only megacity on this list that is not located close to a coastline. Owing to its significance as a center of development for western China, the city is one of the country’s four municipalities that fall under direct control of the central government. Some architectural remnants of the city’s past survived, today shadowed by a modern city skyline..

The city’s GDP was $295 billion in 2018, powered by its robust manufacturing base and aggressive state investment in infrastructure. The city, known as the gateway to the scenic Three Gorges river valleys, boasts numerous tourist attractions. The World Travel & Tourism Council named Chongqing in 2016 as the world’s fastest-growing tourism city.

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