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Urbanization in Africa: creating both problems and solutions for climate change

  • By Alise Brillault
  • October 31, 2018
  • 0 Comment

The world is urbanizing at a rapid pace, and this is especially true when it comes to Africa. The UNDP estimates that 2/3 of the global population will live in cities by 2050, and 90% of that growth will take place in developing countries. As millions of people move to urban centers seeking better economic prospects, this can put an enormous strain on areas such as waste management and water provision. It is thus vital that today on World Cities Day and beyond, we think about how we can make the growth of cities happen in a sustainable way that benefits all.

Rapid Urbanization in Africa

Africa’s urbanization rate is the fastest in the world. With city populations expanding by 3.5% annually, the percentage of Africans living in urban areas is set to reach 50% by 2030. In 1980, only 28% of Africans lived in cities. This also means that megacities- cities with more than 10 million inhabitants- are on the rise. Currently on the continent, Lagos and Cairo have reached the status of being megacities, with populations of about 11.2 million people each. It is projected that the next megacity in Africa will be Kinshasa with 14 million residents by 2025.

Waste management in urban Africa

One of the main challenges associated with rapid urbanization is waste management. Many developing countries are not adequately equipped to deal with garbage collection, and increasing population levels only puts more strain on these systems. In Africa, it is typical for trash to simply be dumped on the ground and burned- a process which emits greenhouse gases and contributes to air pollution.

Thankfully, several KCIC clients have come up with innovative solutions to managing waste. Mega Gas- a ClimateLaunchpad finalist who will be at the Global Grand Final this week– makes cooking gas out of plastic waste. Zijani transforms used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. Taka Taka Solutions converts organic waste into compost and sells inorganic waste to recycling facilities in Nairobi. Enterprises such as these not only deal with the massive amounts of waste generated in cities, but also mitigate carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources.

Access to clean water in urban Africa

The migration of rural people into the cities has also led to the creation of informal settlements, which often lack access to basic necessities like clean drinking water. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a whopping 72% of urban residents live in slums; according to the World Health Organization, slum population will rise to 400 million by 2020 unless decisive action is taken. In fact, the number of Africans in urban areas with access to clean drinking water declined between 2005 and 2010- from 86% to 85%. In Nairobi, slums have even given rise to “water mafias.”  

Again, there are KCIC clients who have taken a creative approach to water provision in order to help the urban poor. For instance, SwissQuest Water Supplies offers a “pay-as-you-go” method of purchasing water typically seen in sectors like mobile phones and electricity. Another example is Mobi-Water, who allows customers to monitor their tanks’ water levels through their phones. Business models such as these allow users to be able to afford, access, and conserve safe water.

Cities and sustainable development

The future is in cities, as that is where both population and economic growth is concentrated. It is estimated that by 2030, the 18 largest cities in Africa will have a combined spending power of $1.3 trillion. Thus, while urbanization presents significant challenges, there are also many opportunities to see that cities grow in a sustainable way. In this way, we can continue fighting climate change and ensure the realization of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 of making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

By: Alise Brillault

Cover photo credit: MastaBaba on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC