Every second year the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs releases population estimates and projections of the urban and rural populations of all countries worldwide. The 2011 revision revealed that Asia and Africa will lead in urban population growth by the year 2050. Asia’s urban population will increase from 1.9 billion to 3.3 billion, and Africa’s population will increase from 414 million to over 1.2 billion. According to projections made in the report, both these continents will account for 86% of the increase in the world’s urban population by 2050.
Cities are the engines that drive national economies and the hubs where mass production and consumption occur. Urbanisation is seen as potential towards GDP growth for countries. The 19th century saw an upsurge of urbanisation trends in many western countries and along with it, industrialisation and rapid growth in those countries’ economies. Megacities such as New York and Tokyo were seen as places of opportunity and growth. The picture below shows the increase in urbanisation trends in less developed regions far exceeding the more developed regions in the coming years.
The Global Report on Human Settlements for 2011 focuses specifically on the link between cities and climate change. Urbanisation trends are linked to environmental issues. Urban areas are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases as they consume the most and thus are most likely to be impacted by climate change. Since most of the urban growth is within developing economies, they are the least equipped to deal with climate change. The current conditions within which most people in the developing economies live are inadequate, as many people live in informal settlements that make them easily prone to natural disasters. Developing countries need to start addressing some of these challenges as they exist today but also with an outlook into the projected future. Many cities in Africa still struggle with issues of land use, and in most cases, land use regulations do not exist. The growth of African cities is in most cases organic and highly pressured, not within the bounds of careful planning. This creates unsustainable land use patterns that become more difficult to address the longer they are left alone. Nigeria and the DRC, among seven other countries from Asia and Latin America, are expected to contribute 26% of the expected urban increment. On the other hand countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, DRC and Ethiopia will experience increases in their rural population numbers.
These projections are alarming especially so since most people are currently living in dilapidated conditions. Higher population numbers in many African cities will mean that basic conditions such as adequate housing, infrastructure and services will be put under further constraint, if governments do not respond to these warnings, and if the private sector does not develop appropriate products to suit the affordability and livelihoods contexts of low income households.
Clearly we need to be more aggressive in our quest for finding solutions to these problems. Access to land constraints need to be addressed together with issues of housing and housing finance.
Climate change is caused by the increase use of fossil fuels and land use changes. As climate conditions worsen those areas which are exposed such as urban areas will be severely affected. Most cities in Africa are subject to experiencing some of these consequences: directly where cities become uninhabitable due to climatic conditions, and indirectly where people migrate to other cities due to displacement as a result of a disaster.
As more people migrate to a particular region, the competition for resources escalates. Slums will grow to become mega slums, traffic congestions will be unbearable- especially so for cities without proper transportation planning, cities will experience urban sprawl due to the unregulated system of planning which will most affect those without economic means, gentrification will occur- the rich will have their own enclaves while the poor will be economically restricted to their ghettos.
Many African countries are starting to respond to these warnings, and even though progress is slow there has been a realisation from nation states about the seriousness of urbanisation, especially urban slums. Countries such as Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have already made remarkable progress in dealing with slums. “The decrease is largely attributable to the successful implementation of housing policies and programmes that have increased low income housing supply and systematically improved slums and informal settlements” (Affordable Land and Housing in Africa, 2011). The road to the eradication of slums, for many countries will be a long and difficult one, but there will come a time when the seemingly impossible is made possible.
World Urbanization Prospects: The 2007 Revision Population Database, accessed from: http://esa.un.org/unup/, date 6 February 2012
Risky Cities: the deadly Collision between urbanization and Climate Change (2011), Global Report on Human Settlements 2011 – Cities and Climate Change, accessed from: http://www.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/GRHS2011/Pr3RiskyCities.pdf