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Special Features: UN Habitat: Millions of Africans at Risk From Sea Level Rise

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A new environmental report, release by the United Nations HABITAT on the State of African Countries has revealed that millions of Africans are at risk from sea level rise. The report which is titled: The State of African Cities 2010: Governance, Inequality and Urban Land Markets, also predicts a rise in the population of African cities.

The report: More than 25 per cent of Africa’s population of about one billion people lives within 100 km from the coast. With climate change, many will be at risk from sea level rise and coastal flooding over the coming decades.

According to the new UN-HABITAT report, State of African Cities 2010, Africa will suffer disproportionately from the negative effects of climate change despite contributing less than 5 per cent of global green house emissions.

“Already confronted by innumerable problems related to economic development and urbanisation, African countries have to now address the negative effects of climate change despite being minimal contributors to green house emissions. The slums of African cities are already witnessing increased numbers of environmental refugees,” said Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. “Whatever the reasons, this is the time to act. African cities can adopt measures to reduce vulnerability and mitigation measures should be put in place. With strategic urban planning that improves slums and rationalizes urban mobility and energy consumption, cities can be part of the solution.”

Already beaches and dune ridges along some African coasts show evidence of retreat, varying from between a loss of about 1 to 2 metres annually in Senegal to between 20 and 30 metres along the Gulf of Guinea. The Dakar coast, for instance, with 50,000 individuals per square km, is one of the most densely populated in Western Africa, and a storm surge disaster could easily affect 75,000 residents.

While climate variability is not a new factor in Africa’s history, the report points out that the incidence and severity of extreme weather events, including floods and droughts, has increased sharply in recent years and projections indicate that this trend may intensify, further increasing vulnerability. Burkina Faso, for instance, experienced the heaviest rains in 90 years in 2009, leaving 150,000 people homeless.

Other parts of Africa recently suffered prolonged droughts and subsequent hunger, leading to rural-urban ecomigration, adding even more people to the urban populations at risk.

Urban footprints & environmental losses

The authors of the report argue that the trends of environmental losses in African coastal regions and rain forests are worrisome. They point out that environmental degradation in and around African cities and their environmental footprints are closely associated with the incidence of poverty.

For instance, the high cost of electricity and lack of urban livelihoods accelerate deforestation; the land is used for food production and its fuel wood for cooking. Extensive fuel wood use is a matter of the widespread failure to provide African cities with energy security. Urban energy security is critical for economic growth and poverty alleviation, but over 550 million people, more than half of all Africans, lack access to electricity, despite the continent’s huge hydro and geothermal potential. The DRC, for instance, has a 150,000 MW hydro-electric capacity – three times Africa’s current power consumption. The report argues that providing all African urban dwellers with sufficient energy is a clear component of sustainable development that has not yet been fully explored.

Cities, through their high population and human activities concentrations, are significant generators of carbon emissions and therefore major contributors to climate change. Municipalities, with their regulation, land use planning and taxation roles, should become the key actors in addressing climate change. Local authorities have the closest link with the population, enabling them to stimulate behaviour change among businesses and citizens.

Urban planning: Key to addressing the impacts of climate change

Fortunately, according to the report, many African central governments are starting to be involved in addressing the impacts of climate change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

However, local authorities are severely lagging in this respect and hardly have any policies or programmes in place for urban-specific adaptation strategies, despite the fact that cities contain much of the national population and the overwhelming share of national assets.

Past and current urban planning has promoted highly dispersed and sprawling cities with often long commuting distances between housing on the urban peripheries or beyond and centrally located work, shops and schools. Poor public transport and a bias towards private cars, which are often poorly maintained, are features of all the cities in the region that significantly contribute to fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. More attention should go to urban designs that reduce mobility demand.

Rail systems and other public transportation modes are effective in reducing urban carbon emissions. They have in recent years experienced declines in passenger numbers, largely due to poor service, poor safety and a lack of integration with other transport modes. High quality and reliable public mass transport is required to reduce urban reliance on private vehicles. Urban public mass transportation must also cater for the wealthy who contribute much more per capita to emissions with their private vehicles than the poor.

The way for war d

The authors of the report call upon central and local governments to set an example and become much ‘greener’ in their actions and decision-making by promoting:

• City, neighborhood and building designs that prioritize energy efficiency and make more use of clean and renewable energy sources;

• Urban planning towards more multi-nuclear cities that facilitate shorter commutes and urban mobility based on walking, cycling and public transportation, including light rail connections between (peri-) urban residential and central business areas;

• Use of private vehicles should be discouraged through pricing, taxation and/or restriction of vehicular access to city centres during specific hours of the day, supported by better public transportation options;

• Environment-sensitive legislation that promotes renewable energy technologies in industry, public and residential buildings and generally integrating ‘green’ policies in municipal by-laws that promotes ‘green’ entrepreneurship;

• City managers must set the example through climate change-compliant decision-making and municipal procurement strategies that give priority to climate change adaptation and mitigation;

• Municipality pooling in services and ‘green’ technology procurement can generate cost savings while creating a critical mass of demand for novel products and services.

Population of African Cities to Triple

The report also warns that African city populations will more than triple over the next 40 years. The State of African Cities 2010: Governance, Inequalities and Urban Land Markets.

For the first time, in 2009, Africa’s total population exceeded one billion, of which 395 million, almost 40 per cent, lived in urban areas. This urban population will grow to one billion in 2040, and to 1.23 billion in 2050, by which time 60 per cent of all Africans will be living in cities.

“No African government can afford to ignore the ongoing rapid urban transition taking place across the continent.

Cities must become priority areas for public policies, with hugely increased investments to build adequate governance capacities, equitable services delivery, affordable housing provision and better wealth distribution,” said Joan Clos, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT.

According to the report, with an urban growth rate of 3.41 per cent, Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent in the world and will in 2030 cease being predominantly rural. The increase in urban populations will lead to an exponential increase in the demand for shelter and services. But as the authors point out African cities are already inundated with slums; a tripling of urban populations could spell disaster, unless urgent action is initiated today.

Dimensions of urbanisation

The report highlights various dimensions of urbanisation in Africa making a number of observations:

• Cairo, with 11 million inhabitants is still Africa’s largest urban agglomeration. But not for much longer. In 2015, Lagos will be the largest with 12.4 million inhabitants. In 2020, Kinshasa’s 12.7 million will also have overtaken Cairo’s then 12.5 million population. Luanda has recently surpassed Alexandria and is now Africa’s fourth largest agglomeration. It is projected to grow to more than 8 million by 2040.

• Up to 2020, Kinshasa will be the fastest-growing city in absolute terms, by no less than four million, a 46 per cent increase for its 2010 population of 8.7 million. Lagos is the second-fastest with a projected 3.5 million addition, or a 33.8 per cent increase. Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Ouagadougou, Cairo, Abidjan, Kano and Addis Ababa will all see their populations increase by more than one million before 2020.

• The average for the 10 proportionally fastest growing cities is around 51 per cent. Abuja, Bamako, Luanda, Lubumbashi and Nairobi are projected to grow at rates between 47 and 50 per cent over the current decade, while Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Mbuji-Mayi and Niamey are projected to grow between 50 and 57 per cent.

• In the case of some African cities, projected proportional growth for the 2010−2020 period defies belief.

Ouagadougou’s population is expected to soar by no less than 81 per cent, from 1.9 million in 2010 to 3.4 million in 2020. With the exception of the largest cities in the Republic of South Africa and Brazzaville in Congo, from 2010 to 2020, the populations of all sub-Saharan million-plus cities are expected to expand by an average of 32 per cent.

• But 70 per cent of all African urban population growth will be in smaller cities and those with populations of less than half a million. This is where the real urban transition of Africa is taking place. Therefore, this means that smaller cities will increasingly need public investment to cater for this growth.

Drawing lessons

Drawing lessons from urbanisation in other continents and other times, the authors argue that strong demographic growth in cities is neither good nor bad on its own. If anything, worldwide, urbanisation has been associated with improved human development, rising incomes and better living standards. However, these benefits do not come automatically. They require well-devised public policies that steer demographic growth, create healthy urban economies, and ensure equitable distribution of wealth.

Rapid demographic growth that merely results in massive urban slum proliferation, steep inequality and human misery is not good urban growth. When demographic expansion is harnessed in support of economic progress and development through job creation and higher productivity, this is ‘good’ urbanisation. Such progress is predicated on good governance that sees to proper housing and basic services for all.

This model is the reverse of the socio-economic conditions currently prevailing in African cities regardless of size, where demographic expansion is continuing against a background of significant and ever-growing shortfalls in housing, services and livelihood opportunities.

These deficiencies can only worsen if African cities are allowed to mushroom under current laisser faire modalities of urban expansion. African governments must regain control over their cities’ development.

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