Nowhere do cities expand faster than in Asia and Africa. However, to develop them in a more sustainable and socially accceptable way will be one of the greatest challenges for the implementation of the Sustainable Development goals (SDGs).
During the last few decades, hundreds of millions of people have moved from their rural homes into cities, especially in Africa and Asia. The available statistics are not reliable and vary considerably. Nevertheless, estimates (in millions) show that 9 of the 10 biggest cities in the world are in Asia: Tokyo (35), Djakarta (30), Delhi (24), Manila (24), Seoul (23), Shanghai (23), Karachi (22). Meanwhile, the biggest metropolitan agglomerations in Africa, according to a UN-Report of 2010, are: Lagos (17.5), Kinshasa (8.7), Mogadishu (6.3), Khartoum (5.1), Dar es Salaam (4.3), Abidjan (4.1). The cities in Africa are expanding at a breath-taking rate. In 1900, 5% of the population of Africa lived in towns, in 2000 the figure rose to 45%, and in 2100 it could be up to 80%.
Why this drastic change? The reasons people leave their villages to move into towns and cities are manifold and include:
- · Poverty: Poverty and hunger are even worse in rural areas than in cities where there are more chances to find at least occasional work and make a modest living.
- · Conflicts: In situations of violent conflicts and war people escape the insecurity of the village to seek the relative security of the city
- · Politics: Politicians have little interest in rural development. Policies are shaped in the cities and for the interests of the upper and middle class.
- · Population growth: In Africa, the average fertility rate is 4.7 children. Africa’s population could reach 4.4 billion by 2100. Land is getting scarce and young people often have no other choice than to move to the city.
- · Climate change: Frequent droughts and floods are increasingly destroying the livelihood of farming communities.
- · The attraction of freedom: To spend some time abroad is part of the initiation rites in many African cultures. Moreover, life in the city offers greater freedom and an escape from the constraints of the traditional extended family.
It is estimated that by 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people will live in cities worldwide. New settlements have to be built for them. How this will be done is a question of major importance for the future of humanity. Some aspects of the challenge deserve greater attention.
i) Informal slum-settlements: If the present trends continue by 2100 2 of the 4.4 billion Africans could be living in slums in appalling conditions, a potential social time bomb.
ii) Drinking water and sanitation: Some 150 million people will have no access to clean water; some 750 million will have no access to sanitary systems. Climate change is likely to increase the problem of water scarcity.
iii) Air pollution is one of the major causes of death in Asian mega-cities. Africa‘s capitals suffocate in traffic chaos. Different transport systems have to be developed.
iv) Waste disposal is very inadequate in many African cities.Growing consumption will increase the volume of garbage. New solutions are needed.
Because of the increasing importance of managing urban growth, the 11th Sustainable Development Goal insists on the need to “make citiesand human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”
For this to happen, a study of the German Advisory Council on Global Change envisions the integration of three dimensions:
- Sustaining natural life-support systems and protecting the local environment: This entails keeping global warming below 2°, controlling air pollution and stopping soil degradation.
- Ensuring substantive political and economic inclusion for city dwellers: This involves access to clean water and sanitary systems, health care and education, employment and accommodation. The participation of citizens in shaping the future of their city is very important.
- Respecting the socio-cultural and spatial diversity of cities and urban societies: Cultural diversity, the social and economic potentials of various groups and the interaction of the different agents must be respected and promoted.
What is clear to us at the AEFJN is that the current situation is underpinned by exploitative global economic structures, unbridled business with no thought for ethical imperatives and a lack of consciousness of the universe as an inter-connected living organism. The situation cannot be prevented without changing the underpinning causes. However, if this keg of gun powder is overlooked, more Africans who want to live will want to migrate to Europe notwithstanding the hazards of the Mediterranean Sea. Because of this, the AEFJN calls for more proactive action from the international community to tackle these underlying socio-economic issues and ‘now is the time’ (2Cor 6:2).
Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke
NAD Netzwerk Afrika Deutschland
Chika Onyejiuwa CSSp