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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 1: Economy and society: development issues
close this folderUrbanization and industrialization: What future for Sub-Saharan Africa?
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe continuing rapid rate and scale of urbanization
View the documentThe urban environment
View the documentThe limitations of industrialization
View the documentThe impact of structural adjustment
View the documentSub-Saharan Africa as the global periphery
View the documentImplications for urbanization and industrialization
View the documentReferences

The urban environment

Although urban areas are generally better served with infrastructure and public utilities than are pert-urban and rural areas, major disparities in access to these forms of collective consumption exist within towns and cities. Whereas the urban elites and most of the middle classes enjoy adequate facilities, in some cases on a par with first world standards, the urban poor endure varying degrees of deprivation. Two components of inaccessibility can be distinguished:

1. Inadequate service or infrastructure provision, in that the resources and political will to expand piped water and reticulated sewerage networks, refuse and other solid waste collection services, and health care and education systems in accordance with urban growth have proved lacking. Even the reduction of standards, e.g. pit latrines and communal standpipes, as commonly incorporated in site and service or shanty upgrading schemes, for example, has not enabled such services to reach anything like all urban residents. Many peripheral and poor neighbourhoods are thus unserved, while infrastructural maintenance in older low-income areas, even of formal dwellings, has often been deficient or neglected (Hardoy and Satterthwaite 1984; Hardoy, Mitlin, and Satterthwaite 1992; Simon 1992).

2. The unaffordability to the poor of services that do exist. This problem is particularly acute in the absence of state health care, for example, or when residents are unable to afford the cost of water and electricity installations and payments. As discussed below, the situation in this regard has deteriorated markedly since the early 1980s as a result of public expenditure cutbacks and widespread retrenchments under the impact of structural adjustment and economic recovery programmes. Class, ethnicity, gender, and access to employment are becoming, more than ever, the critical determinants of urban quality of life in urban Sub-Saharan Africa.

The urban environment of large cities is also suffering increasingly as a result of industrial pollution. Although there have fortunately been no disasters on the scale of Bhopal or Mexico City in SubSaharan Africa, industry is a major polluter in metropolitan areas such as the PWV and Lagos. On calm days, the smog enveloping Cape Town is on a par with that choking Los Angeles. Here and elsewhere, high motor vehicle concentrations play a role. In addition to atmospheric pollution, groundwater and soil contamination by toxic chemical discharges, leaks, and unscrupulous dumping is widespread across the continent. Notorious cases of imported toxic dumping in several African countries have hit the headlines in recent years (O'Keefe 1988). Factory workers are often at great risk from hazardous substances and processes, for which they commonly receive inadequate training and/or protective clothing.

In many countries, the basic problem is the absence or inadequacy of environmental legislation and emission controls. However, even in countries such as Nigeria and to some extent South Africa, which now have relevant laws on the statute book, the problems persist. This reflects inadequate enforcement of the regulations on account of staff and equipment shortages, lack of muscle, political corruption and nepotism/clientelism, or executive decisions to play down environmental considerations in the pursuit of employment and industrial output. A recent United Nations Environment Programme/World Health Organization (UNEP/WHO) study found that, overall, megacities in countries of the South now suffer more severe air pollution than their counterparts in the North (UNEP/WHO 1992). Although no African city was included, the implications for large cities such as Cairo, the PWV complex, and Lagos are ominous.

Finally, in this context, it is necessary to record that poverty is also a source of urban air pollution. The great majority of urban Africans still rely on fuelwood, charcoal, or coal as their primary energy source for cooking and heating. At night, especially in winter, large lowincome areas are often submerged under thick blankets of smoke.