It is said that by 2050, 70% of global population will be living in cities with most of these migrations occurring in Asia and Africa. The migration is evident in the city I live in, Abuja. Every day, people migrate to Abuja with the hopes of securing a better future through finding jobs. Thanks to other political factors that made a lot of money to be in circulation in Abuja. The urban opportunities lying here are far more in number with higher returns in economy than those in the rural areas. In many villages, hamlets, towns etc. the only economic activity might be farming, fishing, herding or hunting, depending on the resources available in that region. As such, finding a quicker and sustainable means of livelihood becomes challenging and fuels the passion to migrate to cities like Dar Es Salam, Nairobi or Luanda to find urban economic opportunities. While this has its pros, the cons are weighing down on African cities. Urbanization in Africa is accruing a number of challenges.
This was the central theme in the United Nation’s Habitat III Africa Regional Meeting that ended on Friday the 26th. The conference lasted for 3 days and delegations of all 52 member states were present at the Abuja International Conference Centre.
With my urban enthusiasm, background in civil engineering and research interest in the urban built environment, through providing affordable housing and ensuring the design and planning of energy-efficient buildings and cities, I felt compelled to attend the meeting. The discussions will extend my horizon to the realities for future energy demand when 70% of the population becomes urban. At the moment, city energy demand is not sufficient and efficient, what will happen when the urban population doubles in 2050?
The opening speeches of the conference were read by the Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, the Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa and the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). All were giving different accounts of the need for Africa to have sustainable urban developments.
The most interesting part of Day 1 was during the panel discussion on African Priorities for the New Urban Agenda, were one of the panelists was a person who lives and work in the largest slum in Africa, Kibera in Kenya. Her name was Ms Jane Anyango (Executive Director and Founder, Polycom Development Project) and the whole congregation was moved by her points of view due to the grassroots experience she has and will continue to have.
The urban imperatives couldn’t have been better said by anyone except a slum dweller. This she reiterated when I joined her at one of the side events titled Grassroots Women Driving Sustainable Urban Growth organized by the Huairou Commission on Day 2. She lamented on the skill-set of the community to address their living issues themselves. A lot of foreign interventions visit the slums, carry out development projects and leave, without the community fully understanding how to continue or upscale the project she said. capacity building is found wanting always. “If they really want to help the slum dwellers, they should fully empower them”, she said. On a final note for the side event, she mentioned, for community based development that will internalize among the people, PowerPoint presentations will achieve less, when compared to sitting in circles with the people. This is how the African communities are.
According to a World Bank report, compared to other continents, Africa has the lowest urban economic growth albeit the highest urbanization rate. The latter should be used as a great opportunity to ensure equitable, inclusive, sustainable and draw up transformative action plan for urbanization in Africa.
Many of the African cities urbanize, whilst giving birth to slum areas to accommodate the teeming poor migrants. A city like Abuja has many slums in some of its pockets and around it. Mpape area for example (shown in the picture) is the biggest slum in Abuja. A slum area by definition has no access to the basic services such as water and sanitation. Their population is much and largely poor.
A more detailed definition of a slum household is given by UN-Habitat as persons living in an urban area lacking any of the following; access to adequate sanitation, access to sufficient and affordable water, proper shelter that will protect its inhabitants against adverse climate weather condition, a room for not more than 3 people and the last but not the least, prevention from forced eviction. If current urban development continues at the same rate, a study by MIT projected almost half of urban Africans will be living in slums by the year 2020.
Day 2 of the meeting was pack to full as the Vice President of Nigeria (representing the President of Nigeria), the Minister of the FCT, Minister of Power, Works and Housing and UN-Habitat Executive Director all rose from the High Table to deliver speeches.
The meeting concluded on Day 3, with the 52 member states agreeing to the deliberations of the Africa Regional Meeting as the Abuja Declaration. The Declaration is supposed to be the avenue to synergize the 52 African countries to take one voice to the next Habitat 3 conference in Quito, Ecuador. Europe and Latin America will also have similar regional meetings ahead of the Habitat 3 conference in October.
That is for the formality and protocol. It is up to the political will of the various government to use the framework in changing the lives of their citizens by providing adequate and affordable housing.
I hope to see visible changes in African cities after a decade or so of the Quito conference to see how far we went in addressing the negative impacts of urbanization.
Sadiq Gulma is of Green Habitat, a nonprofit promoting the adoption of sustainable policies and frameworks in the agricultural, building and construction sectors in Nigeria.