Author : Ben Arimah
Affiliated organization : United Nations Human Settlements Programme(UN-Habitat)
Site of publication : sciencedirectassets.com
Type of publication : Article
Date of publication : September 2016
The growth and hence prosperity of African cities will depend on the extent to which infrastructure is adequately provided, upgraded and maintained. The cities that have been most successful in attracting investment and increasing their competitiveness in a highly globalized world are those that have vastly improved the range and quality of their infrastructure.
Conversely, poor infrastructure is a major impediment to growth, poverty reduction and improved standards of living. Inadequate water and sanitation facilities will lead to deterioration of the urban environment.
Rural-urban linkages in many African countries are hampered in part by deficient transport networks, poor electricity, and limited or non-existent coverage of information and communications technology. Since urban and rural development are interdependent, improved infrastructure can be instrumental in increasing rural productivity and facilitating access to markets
African cities will need to invest in infrastructure as a means of achieving inclusive growth and sustainable urbanization. It is important that infrastructure is provided to anticipate the rapid growth and expansion of cities, and also within the context of the role that infrastructure can play in driving the prosperity of cities.
Trends in the Provision of Urban Infrastructure in Africa
Africa has the lowest levels of infrastructure— where 87% and 40% of the urban population have improved water and sanitation respectively; 72% of the urban population has electricity; 16% of all roads are paved; one in 100 inhabitants has fixed telephone lines as against 71 in 100 inhabitants for mobile phones.
No city can claim to be prosperous if it is unable to supply its residents with clean water in sufficient quantities. A large majority of African cities experience regular water shortage.
Water scarcity characterizes African cities despite statistics presented by WHO/UNICEF which that show that 87% of the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa has improved water supply. The differences in water shortage across cities can in part be attributed to differences in water governance and in the ability of the relevant water agencies to supply water in sufficient quantity and quality.
The road network of any city ranks amongst its most prized assets; it facilitates the movement of people and goods, and guides the growth of cities. Roads form the basis for providing trunk infrastructure for access, water, sanitation power supply and telecommunications. In most African cities, roads account for less than 7% of the land area, compared to 25-30% in developed cities.
Over the last one and half decades, the growth in ICT in Africa has been phenomenal. By 2013, mobile phone penetration had reached 79.3% of the African population (World Bank, 2015) thus, implying 896 million subscribers. It therefore comes as no surprise that 85% of local experts across African cities rank telecommunications infrastructure as highly developed or developed.
Major advances in wireless technology and liberalization of telecommunications markets have transformed businesses, and led to wealth creation and economic growth in many African countries with cities being the major beneficiaries.
Many Africa cities are characterized by inadequate water supply and squalid conditions of environmental sanitation. One of the most visible and intractable urban environmental problem pertains to the disposal and collection of solid waste
Contribution of Infrastructure to the Prosperity of African Cities
The contribution of infrastructure to prosperity in various cities is further mediated by the local context, and as such, its impact may vary across cities. It requires tacit knowledge to understand why and how a particular infrastructure contributes to the prosperity of cities; this where the perspective of local experts is most appropriate.
Infrastructure plays a crucial role in supporting economic growth. It also needs to be stated that economic growth can also promote infrastructure. It is noteworthy that much of the contribution of infrastructure to Africa’s recent economic growth has been attributed to telecommunications and to a lesser extent— roads, while deficiencies in the power sector has militated against growth by reducing economic growth by 0.11%.
Seamless movement within and between cities occasioned by efficient mass transit systems and an adequate network of transport infrastructure are essential for the proper functioning and prosperity of cities.
An overwhelming majority of experts (75%) believe that the provision of infrastructure facilitates greater access to health and education. Increased investment in health and education constitutes sound development strategy and is one of the best uses to which a city can put its resources. Healthy children learn better and healthy adults work better— both being major assets to the city.
72% of local experts across the various cities perceive that infrastructure contributes to enhancing the quality of life. In the case of the youth, the provision of infrastructure in terms of training, sports, recreational and community facilities will make the city more attractive and positively engage one of the most risk-prone groups and deflect them away from deviant behaviour.
Adequate infrastructure for collecting and disposing solid wastes, storm water and flood protection, open and green spaces are of fundamental importance for environmental quality.
Many Africa cities are characterized by inadequate water supply and squalid conditions of environmental sanitation. One of the most visible and intractable urban environmental problem pertains to the disposal and collection of solid waste.
Infrastructure can contribute to the prosperity of African cities by improving slum conditions and reducing poverty. Investment in trunk infrastructure for road access, water, sanitation and electricity can also prevent the formation of new slums, reduce the health burden faced by slum dwellers, and deliver major benefits in poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.
Finally, infrastructure can contribute to the prosperity of cities by reducing spatial disparities, particularly in sprawling urban areas with uncontrolled and largely un-serviced peri-urban areas.
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