Alex Rose-Innes

Already in 2017, Roland White, global expert for City Management, Governance and Financing for the World Bank and lead author of the Greening Africa’s Cities report, was of the opinion that urbanisation across Africa was destroying the environmental assets of cities.

During a symposium of African leaders in Dar es Salaam, White said environmental damage as a result of development could be costly and irreversible. With the influx of rural people into major developed hubs, green spaces and water resources were stretched to the limit. Increased poverty and use of biomass fuels in these areas, as well as the growth of informal settlements with poor service levels, would all lead to negative impacts such as extreme weather occurrences.

The report called for urgent and comprehensive green development strategies to be implemented sooner than later. Among the various issues seen as of high importance across the continent, White highlighted spatial planning, greening programmes and financing these to counteract environmental degradation and providing proper sanitation and waste removal to under-served populations.

“The degradation of natural assets and ecosystems within African cities carries tangible economic, fiscal and social costs such as increasing costs of water production, deteriorating human health, damaged infrastructure, reduced property values and a loss of recreation and tourism value,”Sanjay Srivastava, Lead Environment Specialist at the World Bank.

The World Bank’s country director for Somalia, Malawi, Burundi and Tanzania, Bella Bird, said that the green approach had already proved successful in Tanzania where it turned around environmental and generated economic and social benefits.

The World Bank Group continues to, with the assistance of civil society, private business industries and governments, develop sustainable and efficient cities and communities to benefit those with the lowest incomes across the continent.

According to the Global Population Reference Bureau, black Africans are leaving rural areas at an unprecedented rate since 2007. According to the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the urban population in Rwanda increased by close to 4% over five years, the highest on the African continent. This represents more than 3 million people. Laos and Burkina Faso had also seen increased migration from rural to urban areas, but the UN predicts that it would take at least another two decades for African urban hubs to become larger than rural areas.

Currently, as agriculture remains the major income for many in sub-Saharan Africa, the urban-rural divide presented other major differences among these two populations. A datasheet from the UN showed that young people in urban areas are more likely to finish their schooling than those in rural areas. Those most impacted by poverty in rural communities are women and girls who in Africa are mostly responsible for tending agricultural land as part of their culture. In Malawi in South Africa, this trend had been totally reversed with more urban females being higher educated than their male counterparts.

However, the debate about greening of the continent is expected to continue for the foreseeable future as many Africans still see environmental issues as the privilege of the rich.

(Source: UN 2014)