E1 Kehew

How to build resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa

by David Lammers, MSc Environmental Studies and Sustainability Studies, Lund University

While the challenges of increasing urbanization are often most prominently visible in the world’s megacities, the fastest growth will occur in medium-sized cities in Asia or Africa, according to the World Urbanization Prospects 2014 report. Finding solutions for the challenges these cities face is – for this reason – crucial on the pathway to more resilient urban spheres. Against this backdrop, a dedicated session at ICLEI’s Resilient Cities congress focused on “Resilience planning in small and intermediate-sized cities in sub-Saharan Africa”.

The session, organized in cooperation with UN-Habitat, brought a tremendous amount of first-hand experience to the table from mayors of three Mozambican cities: Daviz Mbepo Simango, Mayor of Beira; Manuel Araujo, Mayor of Quelimane and Rui Chong Saw, Mayor of Nacala. They were joined by Sean O’Donoghue from eThekwini Municipality, Durban; Julian Baskin from Cities Alliance and Joost Möhlmann, Katharina Rochell and Robert Kehew from UN-Habitat.

Throughout the discussion, it became clear that resilience can only be enhanced when improving the economic status of citizens. This was demonstrated by an example from Quelimane, which experiences degradation of its mangrove system. Mangroves bear multiple benefits for the city and its citizens, as they serve as breeding spot for aquatic animals, purify the water and protect the shore from erosion. However, restoration attempts are hampered by the fact that citizens cut down the mangroves for subsistence purposes as they lack alternative income sources.

Julian Baskin also raised the issue that cities in Sub-Saharan Africa often face a lack of capacity in implementing the resilience plans they develop. Training young people in civil engineering and governance techniques was raised as a necessity step to tackle both these challenges simultaneously. Nonetheless, the benefits of this approach can only be felt in years to come.

Food provision also poses a further risk to small and intermediate-sized. According to Joost Möhlmann, the vast majority of farmers grow food for subsistence. Only 1% of farmers produce food that can be consumed elsewhere – such as in cities. Additionally, many cities face the challenge of having to host a growing population on less land, as they lose land to erosion.

The multiplicity of challenges require an integrated approach to resilience, as is, for example, pursued by the City RAP Tool from UN-Habitat. Even if support and finance is available, however, M. Araujo raised the concern that certain funding options are often not visible enough to municipalities. Increasing this visibility and bringing donors and receivers together can hence already display a step forward in creating resilient cities.

This blog post is based on discussions from the Resilient Cities 2016 session: ”Resilience planning in small and intermediate-sized cities in sub-Saharan Africa”.