Five urbanisation challenges in Addis Ababa

I was recently quizzed on what I consider to be the key urbanisation issues in Addis Ababa based on my experience living in the city over the last year.

So here is a quick overview of five urbanisation challenges facing the city from my own perspective

1. Sustainability of buildings and infrastructure

Addis Ababa is currently undergoing a massive construction boom. Unfortunately, the design and construction of many buildings and infrastructure is of a low quality, with insufficient attention being paid to issues of environmental performance and life-cycle analysis. Understandably, the government is facing pressure to meet rapidly growing demands for housing and infrastructure and to raise living standards. However, the current short-term focus on meeting immediate needs rather than considering longer-term issues of sustainability is likely to prove very costly in the long-term, due to the high cost and complexity of retrofitting and rebuilding infrastructure.

2. Urban planning and integration

The rapid growth of Addis Ababa is not being managed effectively by appropriate urban planning mechanisms. Consequently, urban development activities are not well-regulated and there is a lack of integration of new urban developments in transport, housing, commercial buildings, and utility services. For example, large multi-story buildings are constructed with no parking facilities on major roads where parking is also banned. Furthermore, there is a lack of consideration given to the effects of urban development on the existing character of locations and the emergence (and destruction) of precincts. Not to mention my personal bug-bear, the virtual absence of any consideration for pedestrians in urban design and construction management.

3. The informal sector

The informal sector plays an important role in generating employment opportunities for youth and recent urban migrants, as well as supporting the provision of goods and services to city residents. In particular, the flexibility and adaptability of the informal sector helps to mitigate the effects of disruptions caused by major urban development activities. However, the informal sector is not well-understood or appreciated by city officials and faces constant marginalization and subordination through poorly considered regulations and lack of genuine engagement.

4. Environmental management

Probably the one aspect that affects most people in the city is the lack of reliable and secure access to potable water, sanitation, and waste management services. This results in numerous public health issues for city residents, particularly the poor. In addition, heavy rainfall causes minor flooding, erosion of unsealed roads, overflow of sewerage systems, and disruptions to energy supplies, due to inadequate drainage and lack of green spaces to absorb excess runoff.

5. Investment in human capital

Investment in human capital is a critical component of sustained economic growth and development in cities and regions. However, due to underinvestment and severe capacity constraints the quality of education, health and other social services remains poor in Addis Ababa. Consequently, social development indicators and access to secure employment and economic opportunities remain low for many residents of the city. Moreover, the city is heavily reliant on technical support from foreign professionals across many key sectors and industries.

Other notable urbanisation issues include a poorly functioning urban land market, encroachment on productive agricultural lands from urban growth, and lack of modern banking facilities.

Well, that’s my point of view based on my personal experiences. Any feedback or comments are most welcome.

For more observations on urban issues in Addis visit Adrian’s blog: Complexia.

Adrian Young is an Australian currently living and working in Addis Ababa. He holds a Masters of International Urban and Environmental Management from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia and has worked within a number of government agencies and international development organisations in Australia, Ethiopia and South Africa. He has a strong interest in the dynamics and interconnections between human and ecological systems with a particular interest in sustainable food systems and pathways to sustainability. He is the author of Complexia blog.

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3 Responses to “Five urbanisation challenges in Addis Ababa”

  1. Asefa Yihunie

    Dear Adrian,
    Your observation and reflection on urban challenges based on Addis Ababa also applies to the growing regional capitals like Awassa,Bahir Dar,Adama

    • Naol Soboksa

      Dear Adrian
      Good information! The same holds true for the second largest cities in the country. For your suprise govornment keeps as it is with no urgent solution. If govornment donot take an action, hopefully it’ll bring adverse effect on the living societies.

  2. Mengistu Fufa

    dear Adrian! i think it is good idea and should be transferred to other cities and towns in ethiopia


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