Greening Africa’s cities to protect people and growth

A fast urbanizing Africa is rapidly degrading the environmental assets of its cities.


Protecting those assets can increase the productivity and liveability of these cities, improve tourism opportunities, and enhance resilience to the impacts of extreme weather events, according to a new World Bank report, released Thursday, Greening Africa’s Cities.

Launched at the “Greening Africa’s Cities Symposium” held in Dar es Salaam, the report points out that unique features of Africa’s urbanization – such as substantially lower per capita incomes, high reliance on biomass fuels, extensive informal settlement with poor service levels, and the exposure of cities to environmental disasters, such as floods, is putting pressure on African cities’ natural environment and eroding the value of environmental assets – their green spaces, forests, and water resources.

“There is a significant risk that Africa’s cities may become locked into a ‘grow dirty now, clean up later’ development path that may be irreversible, costly, inefficient, and welfare-reducing,” said Roland White, Global Lead for City Management, Governance and Financing for the World Bank and lead author of the Greening Africa’s Cities report.

The report points out that there are important opportunities to change the trajectory that African cities are on to ensure those areas that will eventually be covered by the built environment are developed with a comprehensive green urban development strategy – one that tackles the core problems of pollution and waste, overconsumption of natural resources and eradication of ecosystems, and the diminishment of biodiversity. This agenda for action includes:

• Addressing the “Brown Agenda”, or providing basic sanitation and waste removal services in African cities to under-served populations
• Managing natural resource use
• Controlling traffic and vehicle emissions
• Controlling specific sources of pollution through prohibitions and incentives
• Protecting and restoring the natural environment within and around cities
• Combining engineering, spatial planning, environmental management and other interventions to produce greener outcomes for particular urban development interventions
• Investing in a greening program
• Strengthening institutions to manage green urban development
• Introducing financing instruments targeted at addressing environmental impacts at significant scale.

“The degradation of natural assets and ecosystems within African cities carries tangible economic, fiscal, and social costs, including, increasing costs of water production, deteriorating human health, damaged infrastructure, reduced property values, and a loss of recreation and tourism value,” said Sanjay Srivastava, Lead Environment Specialist at the World Bank, and contributor to the report. “Fortunately, there are important opportunities to change the trajectory of African cities towards a more harmonious relationship between their natural and built environments. However, focused action is needed to make this to happen.”

“Once ecosystems such as wetlands in urban areas have become severely impacted, they are often effectively lost, as is the stream of services they can provide to support economic production and human wellbeing,” emphasized White. “However, with appropriate policy and sufficient resources, it is possible to significantly improve the quality of a deteriorated urban river system, or city atmosphere, within a reasonable period of time.  Choices like these can have important consequences for a city’s economic and fiscal future.”

Bella Bird, World Bank Country Director for Tanzania, Malawi, Burundi, and Somalia, pointed out that, “Green urban development approaches are a win-win for the environment and the people of cities.

Using this approach African cities can be more cost-effective, while conserving natural capital.  We can see in Tanzania, for example that restoring forest areas and rehabilitating river systems could alleviate urban flooding problems,  while also generating other economic and social benefits from reversing environmental degradation,  and making cities more pleasant and productive places to live".

The World Bank Group is working with countries around the world to help build resilience to the growing economic,  environmental,  and social challenges they face today.

The Bank is working in partnership with the private sector,  government,  and civil society in developing urban development strategies to build clean and efficient cities and communities that are resilient to natural disasters.

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