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U.N.: Rapid Urbanization Is Serious Threat to Africa
Sheila Archambault
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, September 20, 2009
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WASHINGTON—The rapid urbanization of African cities is creating a shortage of resources, poor sanitation, social and political unrest and environmental issues.

Urbanization is such a problem that bishops of southern Africa hope to bring it up as a topic at the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops for Africa at the Vatican, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, South Africa, told U.S. bishops in late August.

U.N.-Habitat, the agency for human settlements, said unsustainable growth in African cities is leading to lack of housing, services, employment opportunities and infrastructure to support the population.

"The State of African Cities," a 2008 report by U.N.-Habitat, expressed concern that cities are becoming more and more dysfunctional in terms of access to basic resources and livelihoods for their inhabitants.

"History has shown that high urban growth rates in Africa tend to translate into significant urban informal settlement and slum formation," the report said.

It said that by 2030, the African urban population is expected to more than double its 2007 level of 373.4 million.

"Despite the fact that African cities are generating about 55 percent of the continent's total GDP (gross domestic product), a massive 43 percent of its urban populations are living below the poverty line," said the report.

In West and Central Africa, the report said, more than half of all city dwellers live in poverty, and in very few cities are the water and electricity supply dependable.
The U.N.-Habitat report said urbanization has created civil unrest and significant political risk in Africa's cities.

It added that with increasing population, space for housing becomes more scarce.
"As a result, land prices rise sharply, and land becomes increasingly unaffordable to the urban poor," it said.

"Water and food supply insecurity, especially for large cities, is looming large," it said. "At least 14 African nations are already facing water stress or scarcity and many more will start experiencing water and food stresses over the next decades. Agricultural lands are rapidly disappearing, particularly in the northern sections of the region. Water resources are becoming more and more scarce."

In a 2005 report, "The Urban Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa," the Cities Alliance, a coalition of cities and their development partners committed to the reduction of poverty, said the phenomenon of "rural-to-urban migration can be explained by two forces: the attraction of economic opportunity in cities exerts a 'pull,' while the limitations of opportunity in rural areas create a 'push.'"

The driving force to leave rural areas may be stronger to some in African countries where agriculture has been stagnant or declining or where local conflict has devastated the countryside, the publication added. In those cases, it said, migration is "crucial to ensuring sustainable livelihoods, especially for households facing constant uncertainty."

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