Africa's urban population is growing at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, while some individual urban areas have a significantly higher rate than this. Within the next three or four decades, majority of all Africans will be in urban centers. Each year millions of Africans flock to the cities in search of what many think is a better life. The mass movements have led to rapid and often uncontrolled urbanization. The cities which were built to handle a few thousand people are now home to millions of people each competing for jobs, housing etc. There are many challenges that are expected to rise due to this rise in urban population, which if not taken into consideration, disaster may strike and leave our cities worse that they are currently.
People are migrating to urban areas for many reasons and take time seeking houses that fit their level of income. Some put up with relatives and friends for sometime but tend to search for their houses with time. These houses may have been designed to accommodate a young family or single persons but are now hosting over ten individuals. To make up for the lack of available homes, newcomers often set up shelters on city outskirts, usually on public owned land. This land tends to be dangerous and inhabitable, such as flood plains, river banks, steep slopes or reclaimed land.
When one is pressed by the economic demands, they place their priorities to basic needs and other things are considered secondary. Services like proper waste disposal, drainage, water, medical care and electricity are rarely considered important. This exposes people to diseases and disaster. Most of the urban dwellers do nothing about this but live with hope that one day things will be better. In fact families are created with such setting and children are brought up with difficulties, exposing them to vises to survive.
With increase in urban population, we expect to see traffic increases, leading to more congestion and more road accidents. 1.2 million people die and as many as 50 million are injured in urban traffic accidents in developing countries each year, according to the World Health Organization. Victims are mostly poor pedestrians and cyclists. Those who survive are often left disabled. Our roads may have been designed for less motor and human traffic.
With this and many other foreseen challenges of rising urban population, the big question that “Visionary” leaders should be asking themselves is, are our urban centres prepared to accommodate this increase in population? Are we prepared to provide water, energy, health, education, housing and transportation to this increasing population? Will our roads accommodate the ever increasing number of vehicles and road users?
Since most African cities simply are unprepared to accommodate the additional population, this will lead to high poverty levels, disasters, rise in crime, increase in pollution, health hazards and economic stagnation. However, if planned and managed well, urbanisation can be a driver to economic growth and poverty reduction. Remittances sent by urban migrants to the countryside might actually make their family comparatively wealthy in an area of rural poverty. Migration can also contribute to labour market transformations that many people view essential in driving forward economic growth. It can also increase market for the goods and services produced in the country.
African urban areas should plan for the expected rise in population to ensure that communities that are carefully planned to maximize the use of space, distributing the population in an efficient and dense pattern develop. This will translate the rise in population to growing the productive labor pool, driving manufacturing and services through consumption and increasing the national savings rate. Young people will have incentives to save for purposes like home purchases, college tuition for children and retirement plans.
There are cities that have managed this increase in urban population and have planned their cities to accommodate future increase in population. This can also be adopted in our African cities. Our urban areas should partner with others who have dealt with such increase in population and learn on means of dealing with this challenge. Urban planners and urban leaders ought to consult other urban leaders with experience in other cities to avoid re-planning after a short period. This is just one of the possible benefits that city twinning partners can exploit. Through a city twinning relationship, African urban leadership can learn and share their best practices and cultures with counterparts in the region and abroad.
By Raymond Kiptum
Eastern African Sister Cities.
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