Africa’s cities growing faster than economies


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By Lucianne Limo and Ally Jamah

A UN-Habitat report has raised the alarm over the rise of urban population with a stagnated infrastructure in East Africa.

The report, launched by UN-Habitat Director Anna Tibaijuka at the Regional Conference of Mayors of Capital Cities of Africa at the agency’s headquarters in Gigiri, paints a grim picture of how the urban population is growing significantly faster than the economies.

According to the report, titled ‘The State of African Cities 2008’, the African continent, which is the least urbanised region in the world with 39 per cent of its population living in the cities, is also reported to be the fastest urbanising region.

Economic survival

East African urbanisation is a poverty driven economic survival strategy, said the report.

As a result, between one third and two thirds of the population in East African cities now experience at least one shelter deprivation (such as lack of sanitation or water).

According to the report, 69 per cent of all households in Addis Ababa and 65 per cent in Dares es Salaam are slum dwellers.

About 50 per cent of Nairobi’s population is experiencing one or more shelter deprivation.

“There is urgent need to brace for the anticipated challenges of the higher demands for urban housing, social and physical infrastructures and urban livelihoods occasioned by the urban growth,” said Ms Grace Ekipiwhre, Nigeria’s Minister for State, Housing and Urban Development.

She added: “Equally alarming is that not only is the African continent transforming into an urban majority, but urban life has become intertwined with a host of developmental challenges.”

The minister cited some of these as climate change, food and energy insecurity, increased frequency of natural disasters and the HIV and Aids scourge.

And for development to occur in urban cities, the report says that deep reforms must be implemented, such as making the local authorities autonomous from the central government.

The report also recommends the institutionalisation of real citizen participation, capacity building among councillors and direct elections of mayors by residents, to free them from political manipulation.

Political will

The report recommended that East African governments strongly promote urbanisation in intermediate towns of populations of above 500,000 people.

Relocation of decentralised factions to medium sized towns can be helpful in this process, the report added.

The report accused East African governments of lacking the political will to reduce urban poverty and escalating urban slums.

To address traffic congestion, pollution and rising traffic fatalities, the report suggests that cities should consider options that reduce the reliance on private cars.

“To reduce urban private car dependency, traffic jam management policies need to capture the mobility demands of the middle and higher income groups, as these generate the highest urban private vehicle use rates,” said the report.

The report is a daughter publication of UN-Habitat’s flagship World’s Cities series report.

It was launched in a fully-packed press conference at the Nanjing World Urban Forum. It is projected that by 2030, the African urban population will double its 2007 level. But the report points out that Africa’s rapid urbanisation does not necessarily mean a boon for the continent.

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