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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 folderUrban environmental management and issues in Africa south of the Sahara
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe process of urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentThe nature of environmental problems
View the documentCauses of the current problems
View the documentThe way forward
View the documentConcluding remarks
View the documentReferences


Africa is the least urbanized continent but one where the rate of urbanization is among the highest. The rapid rate of urban growth is causing social and economic strains, some of which manifest themselves in environmental problems. An environmental problem has been defined as "either an inadequate supply of a resource essential to human health or urban production (e.g. sufficient fresh water) or the presence of pathogens or toxic substances in the human environment which can damage human health or physical resources such as forests, fisheries or agricultural land" (Habitat 1989: 6).

A number of environmental problems that occur at varying spatial scales from the home through the neighbourhood, the city to the region are reviewed. The problems include the crowded and cramped living conditions and the presence of pathogens in the human environment because of lack of basic infrastructure; the dangerous and unhealthy sites of some neighbourhoods and the irregular or noncollection of garbage in some neighbourhoods; the city-wide problems of the disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes, and water, air, and noise pollution; and the problem of energy and vegetation, which encompasses a much wider region.

There are many causes or factors contributing to these problems. They include massive rural-urban migration, poor planning and ineffective development control, weak urban institutions, and inadequate financial resources.

A number of suggestions are made for the improvement of the situation. They include institutional reform, improvement of financial viability, and a review of standards.

The paper starts with the background to the process of urbanization in Africa. I then deal with the nature of environmental problems and give explanations for the present situation. Finally, I look at what can be done to improve the situation.