Africa’s Growing Urban Dilemma | FinancialTimes
When Kenya gained independence in 1963, Nairobi had a population of around 360,000. Today, the Kenyan capital is home to at least 4.4 million people, of whom around 2.5 million live in informal settlements, sometimes called slums.
Rodgers Ogwangi, a 27-year-old architect campaigning for local government, has studied the problems of a city where city planners cannot cope with the massive influx of people, many of whom lack adequate housing, d regular work or the money to access basic services, even when they exist.
On a walk through Mathare, a conglomeration of low-income apartment buildings and tin-roofed shacks with around 500,000 residents, he points to piles of uncollected rubbish and food scraps. “Here, groups of young people are picking up trash,” he says, adding that state service is sporadic at best. “Maybe it comes a year, but then it falls apart.”
Many people do not have indoor toilets and have to queue to use the mass pit latrines which overflow when it rains. Even in the more formal apartment blocks, Ogwangi says, the water is intermittent. “It’s rationed. There may be water Monday through Wednesday, but Thursday through Sunday there isn’t.
Nairobi’s explosive growth and attendant problems mirror the situation in cities in many of Africa’s 54 countries. Populations continue to grow rapidly. While the number of people in Europe and the Americas stabilizes and that of Asia will peak in 2050, the number in much of Africa – with a higher birth rate – is growing rapidly and is expected to increase until at the end of this century.
Tanzania had 10 million inhabitants at independence in 1961. Today it is 60 million, which is expected to increase to 137 million by 2050. The population growth rate slows with the birth rate (about 4 .8 children per woman) but, as the late Swedish statistician Hans Rosling said, much of the population growth is already “built in”.
With significant variations, this pattern is playing out across Africa, where the population is projected to double to 2.5 billion by 2050 and, according to the best estimates, reach 4 billion by 2100.
African cities are growing even faster. The largely rural societies of a generation or two ago became rapidly urbanized. In 1950, the urban population of Africa was 27 million people, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developmentless than one-twentieth of the 570mn who live in the city today.
Cities grow organically as urban areas expand and land is reclassified. People are drawn there by the prospect of a better life or, in countries like Burkina Faso, Sudan and Mali, driven towards them by insecurity.
According to the UN, of the 30 fastest growing cities in the world between 2018 and 2035, 21 will be in Africa. Relatively lesser-known cities – like Bamako in Mali and Yaoundé in Cameroon – will experience explosive growth.
Lagos, Nigeria’s main commercial city, is now home to at least 15 million people. It is expected to have 32 million people in 2050, according to the University of Toronto’s Global Cities Institute, and up to 80 million by 2100 – although long-term projections are highly speculative.
Much, if not all, of this growth is unplanned, says Seyni Nafo, a Malian diplomat and former chair of the African Group of Negotiators in the UN climate change process. Unlike many Asian cities, which are concentrated and high-rise, many in Africa are expanding outward, robbing them of advantages such as ease of service delivery and the network effects of effective interaction.
Even so, cities from Lagos to Nairobi, and many more, have become entrepreneurial hotbeds where young people are creating start-ups that are beginning to attract serious investment.
Unplanned cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change, says Nafo. “With sea level rise, in 20 years, in 30 years, Lagos, Cape Town, Dhaka, Alexandria, Casablanca. . . may not be under the sea, but there will be huge losses and damage to infrastructure.
In May, floods submerged much of Durban, killing 400 people and crippling part of its economy. In 2017, following torrential rains in Freetown, Sierra Leone, mudslides killed 1,141 people and left thousands homeless.
It’s not just natural disasters. In November, a 21-storey building in Lagos collapsed, killing 45 people. It was one of 167 construction failures reported in the city over the past two decades, according to to research by Olasunkanmi Habeeb Okunola, Disaster Risk Specialist.
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Princeton research associate Ben Bradlow, who wrote a book comparing urban development in Johannesburg and São Paulo, says the former hasn’t done as well as its Brazilian counterpart when it comes to housing, sanitation and transport collectives.
Despite concerted efforts by the African National Congress to overcome the legacy of apartheid, he says, Johannesburg has failed to tackle the “cross-cutting issues” of organizing. “You can’t solve the transport problem alone,” he adds, explaining that it is deeply linked to where people live and work.
Institutional changes are often as important as physical changes, says Bradlow. São Paulo introduced a pass that allowed passengers to move between informal minibus systems — the kind that operate in African cities — and a more formal rapid transit system. Such an integrated approach is rare in Africa.
The problems of Johannesburg, which for all its inequalities is relatively wealthy, are amplified in large African cities where civil servants lack the resources or power to impose rational systems or provide adequate services.
In the absence of government solutions, some private sector organizations seek to make even a small dent. In Nairobi, Sanergy is one of many circular economy businesses to emerge. It turns urban food waste into insect-based animal feed and organic fertilizer. Orders have soared since the war in Ukraine made urea-based fertilizers more expensive.
Wecyclers, a for-profit social enterprise in Lagos, encourages people to bring trash in for recycling in a city where, as recently as 2012, only 40% of trash was collected.
Such statistics, explains David Auerbach, co-founder of Sanergy, demonstrate the magnitude of the challenge. “Governments are constrained,” he says. “Waste management does not win votes. What we do draws attention to the importance of urban waste management and circular economy solutions. »