The African continent, characterised by a 50% or higher urbanisation rate, one can only imagine what it will be like. Today, the African continent is the fastest urbanising continent and a 50% urbanisation rate is predicted for 2035. The continent’s cities are already notably overcrowded, with major infrastructure backlogs not to even mention the poor economic situation, yet expectations are that the urbanisation rate willl increase sharply over the next two decades. Could this be one of Africa’s greatest challenges?
Urbanisation in Kenya
Although challenged by constantly spreading informal urban settlements, often without electricity or water supply, coupled with waste management issues, it could be said that Africa has the opportunity to change history and to give priority to developing greener and sustainable cities. The baseline for developing sustainable cities is at hand.
The African Green City Index
2011 saw the completion of an extensive study, the African Green City Index, initiated by Siemens and research undertaken by the Economist Intelligence Unit. African cities were analysed in eight key sustainability areas, including: energy, and carbon emissions, land use, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality as well as environmental legislation and governance. In outcome of the study, each city was provided with an environmental profile, describing the city’s overall environmental performance and prescribing where sustainability can be improved.
The study showed that cities in north and south Africa are performing reasonably in terms of sustainability. For the south, Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg were rated above average for environmental legislation and governance; Casablanca and Tunis in the north were applauded for their performance in the water and energy categories. Sub-Saharan cities, excluding South African cities, scored the lowest environmental performance for the entire continent.
Discussions on national and international levels on the outcome of the Index followed, and enter the ‘lack of service provision’ excuse – electricity and proper housing are needed first before we can think about and plan for sustainability. It is unfortunate that governmental focus on infrastructure and service supersedes sustainability. It is exactly here where Africa can learn from global examples – and mistakes. Wouldn’t it make more sense to provide basic services and infrastructure for communities sustainably, the first time round? Avoiding re-development, rehabilitation, challenging re-establishment and nursing of resources at a later stage? Like the drive for sustainability noted in many developed countries today, following decades of resource abuse? Surely it will be more successful to establish sustainability measures with basic needs, rather than providing resources ad lib, without restrictions, followed by future conservation and resource restriction measures.
Developing sustainable cities the first time round will conserve both environmental and economic resources while nurturing a sustainability ethic amongst city dwellers. But will this challenge, a way of developing differently, be answered? Unfortunately, the general consensus among African governmental officials is that it is ‘their time to shine’. But using resources the conventional way might not keep this light shining for very long. Now if solar energy is used, the picture may look different.
Photo credits: some rights reserved by departingYYZ and Brad Ruggles via flickr