New Urban Agenda mustn’t leave secondary African cities out in the cold

As governments, academics, civil society, slum dwellers and other stakeholders consider how to improve the lives of the estimated 1 billion people living in slums around the world, they must make sure not to neglect the situation in secondary African cities.

Secondary cities — those with fewer than 500,000 people — in Africa are sites of rapid urbanization. They are anticipated to double or even triple in population size over the next 15 to 25 years, according to figures from Cities Alliance. And the The New Urban Agenda must take this into account.

Many of these cities are struggling to provide housing and services for their expanding populations, and lack the government capacity and revenues to do so. This results in expanding informal settlements.

“There is no relationship between the capacities that are needed for the new urban future and the realities on the ground,” said Julian Baskin, head of programme unit with Cities Alliance, in his address to the Habitat III Thematic Meeting on Informal Settlements in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday.

Baskin identified two core problems when it comes to housing expanding urban populations in secondary cities: land not being made available for new settlements and people not being able to afford the type of houses that are being built.

Sadly, a common government response to the informal settlements that spring up around secondary cities is to evict people and demolish houses.

“There are more houses being destroyed right now in Africa than being built,” said Baskin. “When you demolish a house you also demolish a livelihood.”

Turning the situation around

To improve informal settlement conditions, slum dwellers are organizing themselves and creating local plans based on data they have collected then taking this information to local governments to initiate partnerships for informal settlement upgrading and planning. This is turning the situation around, said Baskin.

A core initiative in this regard is the Know Your City campaign, a project of Shack/Slum Dwellers International. The initiative involves consolidating citywide data on slums that is collected by people living in the slums. The data is used to initiate partnerships between slum dwellers and local governments and inform development efforts.

In South Africa, the local group of organisations affiliated to Shack/Slum Dwellers International, the SA SDI Alliance has impacted a reported 10292 households through informal settlement upgrading, according to its national figures from December 2015. This upgrading includes providing access to water and sanitation and electricity.

When you deal with slum dwellers who understand the information and don’t have to fabricate [it], who have a real sense of what needs to be done on the ground, suddenly you have multiple planners,” said Baskin.

To deal with the scale of the urbanization challenge, strong partnerships between national and local governments and communities living in informal settlements are needed, he said.


Brendon Bosworth is’s editor.

Photo: Manyatta informal settlement in Kisumu, Kenya. Credit: Book Aid International via flickr.



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