African cities at bursting point.

Author:Nevin, Tom
Position:Population explosion

Populations in African cities are exploding faster than on any other continent. In another 20 years, Lagos, for example, will be the most populated city in the world with over 20m inhabitants. But, while populations are increasing, the ability of cities to cope is diminishing. A catastrophic social crisis is looming. Tom Nevin reports.

Africa's population will continue to increase at a faster rate than any other region in the next 30 years. In that time its population will double to just under 1.5bn people.

A study prepared by the UN - The State of World Population - says that Africa will see an average population growth of 2.7% against a world increase of 1.5% and just 0.3% in developed countries. The continent's 2.7% increase compares with Europe's 0.1%, North America's 0.9%, Asia at 1.5% and Latin America at 1.7%

The report notes that cities in Africa are growing faster than in any other region. Most of the increase is the result of migration, reflecting hopes of escaping rural privation, more than the existence of actual opportunities in the cities.

"In fact," the report reveals, "under the burden of structural adjustment programmes, formal employment in Africa's cities is not growing, while informal sector job availability is not likely to keep pace with the 5% to 10% anticipated growth rates in working-age population."

The quality of life in many African cities is increasingly threatened, it says, and urban infrastructures are already under great stress. "Shrinking budgets for social services have left schools overcrowded and ill-equipped, medical services understocked and overburdened, transport less reliable and basic electrical and water supplies increasingly intermittent."

Economic pressures and rising school fees, have reversed trends towards higher enrollments for basic education.

The most important African cities, says the study, were developed as colonial trading and administration centres, rather than industrial and commercial centres equipped to handle large populations. "A generation after independence, well-serviced but expensive city cores are surrounded by rings of development supporting most of the population, where the quality of housing varies greatly. Urban authorities providing administration and services have been unable to keep up with the explosive growth of squatter communities and shanty towns."

Slow economic growth and poor transport have limited the relocation of industry and industrial suppliers, impeding...

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