by Ruth Aine - 22 July 2014
By the year 2030, there are going to be more people living in urban areas than in rural areas. This is something that we have always known. The world health organization [WHO] says the urban growth trend peaked in the 1950’s. It also mentioned that the global urban population was expected to grow roughly 1.5% per year, between the years 2025-2030. By the middle of the 21st century, the urban population would almost double, increasing from approximately 3.4 billion in 2009 to 6.4 billion in 2050. In a report, WHO also said that almost all urban population growth in the next 30 years would occur in cities of developing countries. Between 1995 and 2005, the urban population of developing countries grew by an average of 1.2 million people per week, or around 165 000 people every day.
The Africa Environment Outlook report produced by United Nations Environmental Program in 2002 took a look at urbanization. It revealed that at the time 297 million people, representing 8%, were living in the urban areas. However, this was to grow to 54% by the year 2030. According to that report Africa’s level of urbanization was on par with that of Asia. I do not know if that has changed, but it is food for thought.
This year the United Nations (UN) just released a report that the world’s biggest cities will be in Africa and Asia by the year 2030. The UN says that in 1990, there were only 10 mega cities but by 2030 it is expected to increase to 41 major cities.
The major cities will then include Cairo and Lagos from Africa and the rest will be from Asia. Mexico City makes both lists but would be the least occupied in the year 2030. This shows that Africa and Asia have their work cut out for them: To create facilities that will, in the years to come, be able to hold the amounts of rural people that will migrate to urban areas. We in Africa still believe that the city is where “magic happens”. We are either still fascinated by the fast-paced urban life where all we earn, or most of what we earn, is spent to put food on the table. We would rather live in a one bedroomed house and still say that we live in the city than go to the rural areas where there are still lots of space and affordable rent. We would rather buy food than grow it ourselves in our backyard. This off course, the city does not provide for.
This is because our education systems have taught us that after high school, in countries like Uganda, you go to only one university, in this case Makerere University. After completion the vast majority would then want to stay in the city rather than take jobs up country. Then they have achieved the Ugandan dream. I remember a colleague telling her sister: “You did not go to school to go and work in the village”. Those are the perceptions of most of our youth. However, there are those that go back to the rural areas because then they will make more money and will not spend it as quickly as they would in the cities. The lifestyle is usually cheaper.
My government has, for the past five years, been talking about constructing “flyovers in the city center to ease congestion”. Kampala was originally planned for 500,000 people. However, according to current predictions, by the year 2023 there will be 4.5 million people in the city. And so, flyovers are being seen as the solution. [Kampala is about 970 square miles.] I think that there could be better solutions for Kampala, like developing more town councils to city status and giving people everything they “long for” on the regional level. That way, there would be control over the number of people coming into the main city.
One thing that we need to understand though, is that urbanization is not development. Urbanization is just the increase of the number of people living in an urban area. So, even with the increase of people living in the urban areas, there has to be a strong economic ecosystem that takes into consideration the fact that these people need to make a livelihood for themselves. Otherwise we will continue to see the rise of informal settlements, which presents yet another challenge.