Category: Cities

Can one billion people in informal settlements be protected from climate change?

Can one billion people in informal settlements be protected from climate change?

By David Satterthwaite

It is crucial the one billion people who live in informal settlements around the world are not forgotten as cities develop climate plans.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) convened an international scientific conference in Canada from 5-7 March to explore what needs to be done to strengthen cities’ ability to withstand and even flourish in the face of climate change.

Adapting to climate change is challenging for all cities, especially if global agreements fail to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C. But how is adaptation possible where city governments have no capacity?

Cities in wealthy countries with functioning governments already have what the IPCC terms ‘risk-reducing’ infrastructure (PDF) and services such as reliable, safe water piped to homes, sanitation, paved roads and paths, storm and surface drains and connection to electricity grids. Almost all housing conforms to official standards, which protect inhabitants from extreme weather. And most people have the added benefit of insurance for their homes and possessions.

City governments that have taken climate change adaptation seriously, have moved from a political commitment to act, to developing new policies and technical responses. The needed move to greater resilience to climate change happens within the ‘formal’ world of policies, budgets, rules and regulations overseen by elected city governments.

One of the greatest challenges for climate change adaptation is how to build resilience for the billion urban dwellers who live in informal settlements. In cities in middle- and low-income countries there is little technical and no investment capacity, and much of the population live in informal settlements that lack almost all risk-reducing infrastructure and services.

For many cities, more than a third of their population live in such settlements – in some, it is more than half.

The people who live in informal settlements and work in the informal economy form a critical part of each city’s labour force and wealth. But they cannot find ‘formal’ housing that they can afford. So, they live in settlements that are outside the system of regulations.

Most are on land that is illegally occupied; many are on such high-risk sites as steep slopes or watersheds where climate change will increase the dangers they face. Most do not receive the risk reducing infrastructure and services that should be provided to everyone who lives in cities – and which are so needed as the foundation for developing the systems fundamental to adapting to climate change.

Learning from community organisations

For city governments, addressing these issues is complicated by the many ways in which informal settlements break laws and contravene regulations. Or they are hampered by limited technical capacity, lack of funding and political constraints. It is also complicated by the fact that in many countries, local governments ignore those living in informal settlements or evict them.

But by recognising the knowledge and skills available in informal settlements, particularly through working with community organisations, city governments can develop effective upgrading measures for these areas and help protect the people who live there.

In many Latin American cities and some in Asia this is already happening. Extending such key infrastructure to informal settlements as roads, water mains, sewers, storm drains and electricity is becoming an accepted part of what a city government does, as can be seen in the cities of Rosario in Argentina and Manizales in Colombia. In Thailand, the national government set up the Community Organizations Development Institute that supports these community-driven upgradings.

Community organisations have led many of these initiatives over the last 20 years. They include many by federations of slum or shack dwellers that are active in more than 30 countries, supported by Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR).

Although none of this action was initiated in response to climate change, its contribution to increasing informal settlements’ ability to cope with its impacts and adapt is acknowledged within the IPCC.

This international scientific conference is an important opportunity to help make sure all cities can meet the growing challenges that will be posed by climate change in the coming decades, including those living in informal settlements.

There is an obvious need to reconcile different urban agendas, especially poverty reduction, disaster risk reduction and preparedness and climate change adaptation. Although there are tensions between these and often competition for resources, they all share a focus identifying and acting on local risks and their root causes.

One of the toughest tests for global climate finance is to develop the institutional channels through which to encourage and support locally-driven initiatives in informal settlements. This means global climate funds learning to work with local governments and with the grassroots organisations and federations formed by the people who live in informal settlements.

David Satterthwaite is senior fellow in IIED’s Human Settlements research group. This blog originally appeared on the Climate Home website, and was based on a background paper for the conference on ‘Responding to climate change in cities and in their informal settlements and economies’ (PDF).

This blog was originally published on IIED’s website and is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence accessible.

Cover photo by Ben Dumond on Unsplash.
Scaling up municipal finance to meet the global urbanisation challenge

Scaling up municipal finance to meet the global urbanisation challenge

By Caroline Fouvet

Rapid urbanisation, especially in developing countries, is leading to a range of difficult challenges which are further complicated by the effects of climate change. This has put the role of municipal finance in the spotlight as subnational and local entities might be best placed to deal with urban issues and allocate resources.

According to recent research, over 100 cities will have populations larger than 5.5 million people within the next 35 years, most of them in developing countries. Questions then arise on how to ensure those new urban centres will become sustainable living spaces and avoid pitfalls such as substandard housing conditions, uncontrolled pollution, air contamination, restrained access food and water, and poverty and unemployment. As climate change compounds such issues and places the developing world in a vulnerable position, it is necessary for cities to mobilise the resources that will help them face this situation.

One of the potential options is scaling up municipal finance, which was promoted during the United Nations-HABITAT’s 9th World Urban Forum in Malaysia last month and highlighted the need to raise subnational investments to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Municipal finance is described as “the revenue and expenditure decisions of municipal governments” and materialised through financial tools such as equity finance, pooled finance arrangements, municipal bonds, public-private partnerships (PPPs) and crowdfunding. Catalysing the use of those instruments is an option to secure long-term investments in critical infrastructures and overall sustainable urban development, as cities may face various constraints to raise local revenue sources and take on debt.

Green bonds, which fund green infrastructures, can for instance provide cities with lower capital expenditure levels for sustainable projects, and help them overcome restricted financial capacities. In 2016, Mexico City issued the first municipal green bond in Latin America to finance transit improvements and energy-efficient street lighting, which actually became oversubscribed as the bonds sold could not meet the investors’ demand. Although both mitigation and adaptation measures can be financed through green bonds, the largest share of proceeds has so far been allocated to urban transport and water systems, with adaptation projects only amounting to 5% of the overall use.

Municipal finance, however, has to address several challenges arising from those innovative instruments. The design of PPPs must for instance undergo scrutiny to avoid being poorly designed, hence leading to costly service coverage, poor service quality or fiscal liabilities. A balanced budget is also a necessary requirement for subnational entities to avert financial difficulties when implementing urban projects and to demonstrate that no bail out from central authorities will be required. In addition, good governance is a sine qua none condition to ensure that resources are transparently and properly managed.

To achieve the UN’s 2030 agenda, and in particular SDG 11 “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, municipalities are at the forefront of action. Allocating municipal resources to low-carbon, climate resilient projects and diversifying financial instruments can contribute to the efforts of facing the urbanisation challenge.

Cover photo by Andrés Gerlotti on Unsplash
Citizens unite in Cape Town’s water crisis

Citizens unite in Cape Town’s water crisis

By Leonie Joubert

With Cape Town’s water crisis so bad that its taps may soon run dry, Capetonians are working together to avert a shared disaster. The people of this city are preparing for Day Zero – a water shortage expected four months from now as Cape Town’s water crisis intensifies, likely to be so severe that the reservoirs will be virtually empty.

It sounds like a grim prospect. If it happens, it probably will be. But the good news is that across the city, regardless of differences of wealth and class, South Africans are working together to try to ensure that Day Zero never dawns.

São Paulo, Melbourne and Cape Town are three cities with one thing in common: they’ve all recently faced critical water shortages. Swelling populations, water infrastructure upgrades that aren’t keeping pace, and severe drought are on a collision course to become an urban manager’s worst nightmare, with fresh water and sanitation systems threatening to run dry – literally.

As climate change continues to ratchet up around the world, making rain patterns less predictable, and heatwaves and droughts harsher and stronger, many more cities will face similar intersecting challenges in future.

Surprising co-operation

But a study of water use behaviour amongst Cape Town residents over the past three years shows surprising levels of co-operation around efforts to conserve the city’s “common pool resource”, its municipal water reserves. And the story is one which belies the media reports that people are selfishly panic-hoarding ahead of the prospect of the water being turned off to most of the city.

This February, Cape Town announced the possible arrival of Day Zero, an emergency response measure that the city says it will put in place, should the dams run down to their last remaining 13.5% of available water.

To conserve the dams’ final dregs, the city says it will shut off water to homes and businesses, and trickle-feed the remaining reserves through to critical services like hospitals. Residents will have to queue at communal water distribution points around the city to get a daily ration of 25 litres of water.

Media reports immediately said residents of the city appeared to be panic-buying bottled water and installing bulk water storage tanks.

Pulling together

The concern was that those who had the means to install these tanks would fill them from the municipal water system, to stock up ahead of Day Zero. This would mean vastly exceeding their current daily ration of 50 litres of water per person per day, and would result in a hefty fine or higher water bills.

But a recent analysis by a behavioural economist at the University of Cape Town (UCT) shows that Capetonians’ behaviour has actually been the opposite: that they have been pulling together in the past few years, in response to various measures by the city to get people to reduce their water use.

Martine Visser, from UCT’s Environmental Policy Research Unit, has been tracking water use behaviour amongst Cape Town’s residents, to see how effective various measures by the city have been in getting people to change their behaviour: media education campaigns, dramatic tariff increases, daily limit restrictions and fines for those who break the restrictions – and a few more.

Looking at 400,000 homes across the city, Visser and her colleagues saw an overall decrease in household water use of nearly 50% in just three years, dropping from 540 litres per household per day in January 2015 to 280 litres in January 2018.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water”

It took drought-crippled Melbourne a decade to reduce residential water use by 40% from 2000 to 2010 during Australia’s “millennium drought”. In California similar water behaviour measures resulted in a per person reduction of 63% – from 1995 to 2016.

Most interesting in the analysis, says Visser, is the fact that wealthier Capetonians are doing their bit. Since the height of summer 2015 the richest households have cut their water use to that of the lowest income households, who have much less scope to reduce their water consumption further.

This dramatic drop is partly explained by the fact that wealthier families can in fact afford to invest in drilling boreholes or wells and installing bulk water storage tanks, which have helped reduce demand on the municipal supply. But it is also a consequence of sharp water reduction efforts by individuals.

Together, this has helped push back the arrival of Day Zero until early July. Hopefully, by then, the winter rains will have returned and begun recharging dams and groundwater.

More committed

So behavioural economics suggests that if people believe they are rallying around a common good, like saving water, they become more committed to doing it. But there’s a warning too, says Professor Visser: if people lose faith in each other they will turn to selfish, hoarding behaviour. There is evidence to suggest this twin pattern may apply not only with water-saving but in the case of other shared resources as well.

“The blame game that has dominated media forums is largely inaccurate and counter-productive, and it perpetuates free-riding and selfish behaviour which threatens this common resource pool”, warned Visser recently in the local press.

“The worst possible outcome right now would be if people lost faith in each other’s ability to safeguard the remaining water as part of a common pool resource, and instead rather started withdrawing water from the municipal supply for their own bulk storage.”

The message for drought-stressed cities in future, in terms of encouraging residents to willingly adopt more sustainable behaviour, is to rally them around a common cause, and build mutual trust by showing that people are cooperating towards everyone’s shared wellbeing.

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate. This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Shiva Creations/Pixabay.
Report finds smart surfaces save cities billions through increased resilience

Report finds smart surfaces save cities billions through increased resilience

By Georgina Wade

A new report from clean energy advisory and venture firm Capital E finds that urban investment in smart surface strategies could secure billions of dollars in net financial benefits.

The cost-benefit analysis conducted in three cities, Philadelphia, El Paso and Washington D.C., concludes that smart surfaces can strengthen resilience, improve health and liveability, expand jobs and slow global warming. Smart surfaces include green roofs, solar panels, permeable pavement and reflective pavement.

Additionally, these strategies could potentially deliver half a trillion dollars in savings from urban employment nationally.

Source: U.S. Green Building Council

The report highlights concerns about cities becoming urban heat islands, especially as more effects of climate change become evident. The damage and cost of increased temperature and air pollution are particularly acute for urban low-income urban areas having profound, directly measurable effects on both physical and mental health outcomes.

Smart surface technologies, like cool roofs, help manage high temperatures by reflecting light and heat rather than absorbing it. Green roofs, so roofs with a plant cover, for example, can also provide a means of improving resilience through stormwater management and water quality while providing a means of filtration.

Additionally, investment in the green economy offers jobs across a wide range of skill levels with relatively low entry barriers. Installing smart surfaces in urban areas would help create relatively well-paid jobs and increasing the availability of positions in construction.

And, city officials are responding positively to the report’s findings. As former mayor of Austin Will Wynn notes, “Delivering Urban Resilience provides an entirely convincing case that city-wide adoption of ‘smart surfaces’ like green and cool roofs and porous pavements are both cost-effective and essential to ensuring that our cities remain liveable in a warming world.”

The Delivering Urban Resilience report also provides a methodology for quantifying the full costs and benefits for smart solutions giving cities the ability to financially quantify green options.

 Download the full report by clicking here.

Cover photo by US Air Force: About 2,100 trays of sedum, a regional high desert plant, cover most of the 21st Space Wing Headquarters building roof. It was selected because of its drought resistance. The green roof, installed in 2007, is designed to reduce energy consumption and rainwater runoff, and extend the life of the roof, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lea Johnson).
Government inaction over new building regulations could cause a tripling of heatwave deaths by 2040

Government inaction over new building regulations could cause a tripling of heatwave deaths by 2040

By Georgina Wade

Inaction by the UK government over new building regulations that would ensure homes, hospitals and schools do not overheat, could spell death for thousands of people every year.

A 2017 report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warns that the number of people dying as a result of heat is expected to more than triple to 7,000 a year by 2040 with hospitals and care homes being particularly vulnerable.

And Britain’s recent seasonal temperature averages have proved to be anything but normal. In June 2017, Britain experienced its longest period with temperatures above 30°C since 1976. On the hottest day of the year in 2016 there were almost 400 extra deaths, while a 10-day heatwave in 2003 brought about 2,000 heat-related deaths and another 680 fatalities occurred during hot weather in 2006.

The CCC made the initial recommendation for new regulations in 2015 but faced rejection by ministers, citing a commitment to “reduce net regulation on homebuilders”.

The Government’s current Heatwave Plan contains advice on protecting vulnerable people before and during hot weather. But it is a guidance; not a policy to adapt buildings to prevent the problem in the first place.

Deputy Chair of the CCC Baroness Brown believes the issue will only get worse with a lack of regulation.

“More than 90 percent of our population live in urban areas and as we have all been experiencing, heat is a significant problem,” she said. “We know it’s bad for productivity, we know it’s bad for wellbeing and we know it’s bad for health yet building regulations don’t cover heat and the management of high temperatures.”

Research conducted by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) found that 45% of building professionals estimate there is ‘little or no additional cost’ of incorporating passive cooling measures in new buildings at the design stage.

Additionally, the report found that retrofitting was more likely to involve a higher cost compared to built-in overheating measures. Experts also stress that air conditioning should not be the first choice as it is expensive, energy-intensive, and expels water heat into the environment, making the problem of overheating worse for others.

With a lack of regulation being the most commonly reported barrier cited by building professionals to address risks of overheating, government intervention is essential. And Lord Deben, Chairman of the CCC, stresses there is no time for delay.

“The events of the past year have been, by almost any measure, exceptional,” he said. “However, it is now time for government, and for parliament, to act. Climate change is happening, not waiting. It is neither justifiable nor wise to delay further.

Cover photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash
Report finds investing in disaster resilience is a no-brainer

Report finds investing in disaster resilience is a no-brainer

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) finds that every dollar spent on disaster resilience saves society six dollars.

Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had declared 2017 the costliest year on record for weather and climate disasters. 16 extreme events had losses exceeding $1 billion and causing a total loss of $306 billion, three times more than in the record year 2005.

The NIBS study analysed results from 23 years of federal disaster mitigation grants provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), concluding that investing in disaster resilience saves six times more than it costs.

Additionally, the researchers looked at the benefits of designing new buildings to exceed 2015 International Codes (I-Codes) provisions and found that every extra dollar spent here saves four.

Both strategies together could prevent 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries, and 4000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long-term.

The public-sector disaster resilience building strategies the project team studied include:

  • For flood resistance, acquiring or demolishing flood-prone buildings, especially single-family homes, manufactured homes and 2- to 4-family dwellings.
  • For wind resistance, adding hurricane shutters, tornado safe rooms and other common measures.
  • For fire resistance, replacing roofs, managing vegetation to reduce fuels and replacing wooden water tanks.

The strategies to exceed minimum requirements of the 2015 I-Codes include:

  • For flood resistance (to address riverine flooding and hurricane surge), building new homes higher than required by the 2015 I-Codes.
  • For resistance to hurricane winds, building new homes to comply with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety FORTIFIED Home Hurricane standards.
  • For fire resistance in the wildland-urban interface, building new buildings to comply with the 2015 International Wildland-Urban Interface Code.

The report is accompanied by a white paper and addendum that outline public and private sector incentives for disaster resilience investment.

Download the full report by clicking here.

Cover photo by Troy Jarrell on Unsplash
India needs strategies to combat urban heat stress

India needs strategies to combat urban heat stress

By Juhi Chaudhary

High heat stress is making India’s cities unlivable, and it’s vital to devise ways to adapt to high urban temperatures across the country.

With climate change leading to a rise in temperatures and rapid concretisation exacerbating the urban heat island effect, it has become important to develop adaptation strategies to reduce and combat heat stress.

The issue was prominent at the recent World Sustainable Development Summit 2018 organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). There were many discussions on declining livability in the cities due to heat stress and the need for appropriate policies to cope with the worsening problem.

In 2015, recorded as the hottest year so far, an estimated 4,000 people in South Asia lost their lives to heat-related illnesses. “None should be dying of heat. Heat kills,” said Anjali Jaiswal, Director, India initiative, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “What we are seeing with climate change is that temperatures are soaring. They are breaking records. We saw 50 degrees Celsius in India. Human body cannot survive at this temperature outside. We need cooling measures in place and simple solutions like access to ice packs, ensuring hospitals are ready to receive people and so on.”

A study done under the project HI-AWARE being led by Wageningen University and Research has looked at heat adaptation strategies in three cities — Delhi, Dhaka in Bangladesh and Faisalabad in Pakistan.

Talking about observations in Delhi, Christian Siderius, researcher adaptation and water resources, Wageningen University and Research, said, “We measured a whole range of temperatures for 2016 in Delhi to understand the heat exposures and they went from a minimum of 22 degrees to above 50 degrees, which is due to tin roofs that become like ovens in the day.”

High indoor temperatures

The study found that the minimum temperature as recorded at night by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) at the airport was significantly lower than the temperatures measured within the houses. The minimum temperature for the whole period in 2016 was 25.9 degrees but within the houses that belonged to people from medium to low income groups, the average lowest temperature was found to be 29.9 degrees, which occurred in the morning. In the hot periods, the minimum temperature was as high as 31.7 degrees.

“It means that it is the lowest temperature that is occurring at the end of the night. So it is even hotter than that,” explained Siderius. “We also saw that during that time that one of the hottest houses didn’t get temperature below 38 degrees on a single night and that’s the condition when you can’t probably sleep, you can’t be productive the next day and if it continues for a long time, it leads to health risks.”

The researchers drove around various neighbourhoods in Delhi with instruments in their cars every alternate week and found that there was an average difference of three degrees between different neighbourhoods during heat waves and some neighbourhoods were six degrees cooler than the others due to difference in shade, tree cover and lack of dense built-up areas.

Apart from climate change, rising number of vehicles, decreasing green cover, concretisation, loss of wetlands and air pollutants are causing the heat island effect and leading to an increasing need for cooling strategies.

“We recorded all properties of houses, coolers, fans, humidity levels, even how the houses are exposed to the sun and now we have a better understanding of quality difference. We found that without ventilation, temperature was 36 degrees throughout the ten day period we studied, but if you have ventilation, it goes 2 degrees lower and if you can open the house, it goes further 2 degrees lower. If you have a cooler, you can bring it further down below 30 degrees,” said Siderius.

Roof relief

Experts also pointed out that modular and tiled roofs were better than tin roofs and there was a need to study existing roof solutions that can help reduce heat stress capacity in the long term. They also said that just one solution is not enough. People coming from rural areas have different coping strategies, which don’t always work when they migrate to cities since they can’t sleep in the open and on streets for prolonged periods of time.

Richa Sharma, Senior Associate with the National Institute of Urban Affairs, talked about a study that her team conducted for Delhi from 2003 to 2011 and found a strong correlation between change in land use and change in land surface temperature in the city. Green cover had a strong negative correlation while the urban cover of the city had a strong positive correlation with the land surface temperatures.

“We tried to look at the seasonal variation. It was surprising that during the summer, city actually appeared like a cool island but when we measured day and night temperature for these months, those areas were fallow agricultural land, they used to be very hot during the day but at night time, they used to cool down by 10-12 degrees while urban areas in the congested northeast area of Delhi didn’t cool down enough and nocturnal heat islands were observed in these areas,” said Sharma.

Another study done by TERI that looked at the unique case of Jharsuguda in Odisha where the primary source of heat island effect is due to coal mines and intense heat waves stressed on the need of interventions like creation of sinks like wetlands and conserving dense forests to reduction in traffic flow through new flyovers, introduction of coal washeries, among others, to make the area more livable which is already prone to touching unlivable hot temperatures.

Heat action plans

In India, Ahmedabad has launched its own heat action plan and there are 13 cities in 11 states that have a heat action plan in place, but when it comes to building smart cities, much needs to be done to factor in policies to fight the heat stress, especially when migrant labour and people from the low economic strata are the ones most prone to it. Experts said that smart cities are not being developed in a heat-smart manner.

“When you are planning a city, comprehensive measures need to be taken. For instance, every roof should have a white roof or solar roof or multipurpose roof, bus stops and stations where people can stay cool from the heat and more considerations is needed in this area,” said Jaiswal. “The poor are vulnerable with no access to water, ceiling fans, ventilation, doctors or ice, but all of this is preventable and smart cities can be built in that way.”

Rohit Magotra of Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe) said, “Heat stress is not really being considered. Smart cities are mostly projects on building some infrastructures or improving the governance so this is not a holistic city. Only needs of certain geographic areas are being addressed or prioritised.” However, he added that they have worked towards inclusion of disaster resilience in smart cities project for the past few years and they are happy that at least this component has been included in ten smart cities.

This article was originally published on India Climate Dialogue and is shared under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Read the original article by clicking here.

Cover photo by Atharva Tulsi on Unsplash.
Here come the megacities

Here come the megacities

By John Vidal. This article was originally published on

By 2100, at least 10 cities are predicted to have populations over 50 million. How can society keep pace?

The 1960 street map of Lagos, Nigeria, shows a small coastal city surrounded by a few semi-rural African villages. Paved roads quickly turn to dirt, and fields to forest. There are few buildings over six floors high and not many cars.

It’s likely no one foresaw what would happen between 1960 and today. In just two generations Lagos grew 100-fold, from fewer than 200,000 people to nearly 20 million. Today it is one of the world’s largest cities, sprawling over nearly 1,000 square kilometers (400 square miles). Vastly wealthy in parts, it is largely chaotic and impoverished. Most residents live in informal settlements, or slums. The great majority of them are not connected to piped water or sanitation. The city’s streets are choked with traffic, its air is full of fumes and it produces more than 10,000 metric tons (11,000 tons) of waste a day.

But new research from Canadian academics, though replete with caveats, suggests that the changes Lagos has seen in the last 60 years may be nothing to what may take place in the next 60 years. If Nigeria’s population continues to grow and people move to cities at the same rate as they are moving today, Lagos could be the largest metropolis the world has ever known, home to up to 100 million people. By 2100 it is projected to have more people than California or Britain today, and to stretch hundreds of miles with enormous environmental effects.

Hundreds of far smaller cities across Asia and Africa could also grow exponentially, say the Canadian demographers Daniel Hoornweg and Kevin Pope at the Ontario Institute of Technology. They suggest that Niamey, the barely known capital of Niger — a west African country with the highest birth rate in the world — could explode from a city of around 1 million people today to be the world’s seventh largest city with 56 million people in 2100. Sleepy Blantyre in southern Malawi could mushroom to the size of New York City today.

Under the researchers’ extreme scenario, where fertility rates remain high and urbanization continues apace, within 35 years over 100 world cities will have populations larger than 5.5 million people. By 2100, say the authors, the world’s population centers will have shifted to Asia and Africa with only 14 of the 101 largest cities then in Europe or the Americas.

Cities in the Global South are growing much faster than they did in industrialized countries 100 or more years ago for several reasons. Fewer children now die young. Migration from rural areas is speeding up because there’s less new farmland to be opened up. Many countries encourage urbanization to grow their economies. As a result, cities today are being challenged to keep pace with the largest wave of urban growth in history and the need to provide water, sanitation and power to all those people.

It’s impossible to know how cities will grow, but the stark fact, according to the United Nations, is that humanity is young, fertile and increasingly urban. The median age of Nigeria is just 18, and of all Africa’s 54 countries is under 20. The fertility rate of the continent’s 500 million women is 4.4 births; meanwhile, 50 percent of India’s population is under age 25, and Latin America’s average age is just 29.

Recent U.N. projections expect the world’s population to grow by 2.9 billion — nearly that of China and India today — in the next 33 years and possibly by a further 3 billion by the end of the century. By then, says the U.N., humanity is expected to have developed into an almost exclusively urban species with 80 to 90 percent of people living in urban areas.

The Canadian researchers observe that urbanization can have environmental benefits in the form of economies of scale; that it is associated with better access to education and health care; and that it can boost the economy. But they also note that cities can become more vulnerable as they grow. And, says Robert Muggah, research director of the Igarapé Institute in Rio de Janeiro, a global think tank, urbanization can rapidly outpace society’s capacity to accommodate it.

“Many fast-growing cities urbanize before they industrialize,” Muggah says. “It took centuries for cities in the Global North to do this. In the south we are seeing a doubling of population in 25 years. Most cities [today] don’t have the infrastructure, employment base or productivity to manage this growth. You see a maze of informal settlements, completely overloaded infrastructure. Cities are generating a challenge on a resource level never seen before. The fastest-growing cities may be hit the hardest.”

Whether the world’s major cities develop into endless, chaotic slums, with unbreathable air, uncontrolled emissions, and impoverished populations starved of food and water, or become truly sustainable depends on economies, technology and how they respond to population growth and environmental risk.

While many economists argue that population growth is needed to create wealth and that urbanization reduces environmental impact, others fear cities are becoming ungovernable and too unwieldy to adapt fast enough to rising temperatures and sea levels, pollution, water shortages, and ill health of inhabitants.

Will mega-cities be part of the problem — or the solution? What can they do to maximize the benefits of urbanization while minimizing the downsides? This look at seven cities on five continents, each at a different stage of development, can shed valuable light on what it might take to do it right.

Continue reading at Edge, Ensia’s multimedia platform.

Cover photo by Thomas Tucker on Unsplash

Building cities’ resilience to climate change with the help of cultural diversity

Building cities’ resilience to climate change with the help of cultural diversity

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

At the 9th World Urban Forum (WUF9) in early February 2018, delegates gathered for a special session to discuss how diversity and culture can be leveraged to create resilient cities. As the Mayor of Bologna, Merolla Virginio, pointed out, without understanding and respecting citizens and their participation, urban development will not achieve resilience because it does not reflect the very needs it is trying to respond to.

As urban populations around the globe keep growing, so does their diversity. Different people bring different cultural backgrounds to the city, and urban planners, as well as local governments, have to acknowledge that.

During the WUF9 session, panellists highlighted several ways cultural diversity should be acknowledged to improve cities for their citizens. For example, Elizabeth Cardoza, President of the Heritage Malaysia Trust, said that creating programmes dedicated to the integration of new city dwellers into housing and education could provide a very smooth way of sharing and witnessing culture.

Speaking about conflict and disaster, Emmanuel Kouela, Director of Cultural Affairs & Tourism for the city of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, said, “Without cultural diversity, we can’t recover from conflict.” In his view, cultural diversity can help rebuild cities through food, music, art, and conversations helping people to recover by connecting to each other and acknowledging that the human experience goes beyond simply covering basic needs. In this sense, culture can aid resilience.

Cities for all can only be inclusive if urban policies and planning recognise different backgrounds and the importance of culture, as Shain Shapiro, CEO of Sound Diplomacy summarised, “It’s important to build houses, but it’s also important to build everything else around it.”

The concept of integrating diversity (cultural or else) into urban planning has been promoted by several organisations. For example, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), emphasises that different groups “have unique capacities, and they are ‘agents of change’ in reducing their own disaster risk.” Targeting diverse groups of people by enabling equal participation reduces overall community vulnerability because different perspectives and needs can be integrated into planning.

One of the Habitat III Issue Papers, which provided the backbone the New Urban Agenda, also gave special attention to equal participation. The “Urban Culture & Heritage” paper notes that current trends call for a new model of urban development that does not just reduce vulnerabilities but also “rehumanises” cities. This entails enhancing a sense of belonging and increasing social cohesion by breaking down social barriers so urban resources can be distributed more equally. Such ambitious goals are only attainable if the urban environment and urban planning become more culturally sensitive.

Strong communities and people with diverse social connections are much more likely to withstand shocks, adapt to new circumstances, and recover.

Cover photo by Duncan Bay on Unsplash
March on the Acclimatise Network: Urban climate change resilience – Coping with urban climate impacts in the 21st century

March on the Acclimatise Network: Urban climate change resilience – Coping with urban climate impacts in the 21st century

Inspired by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Edmonton, CA, next week, we are dedicating the month of March to urban climate change resilience.

In addition to discussing the most pressing issues cities are facing due to climate change and how they can prepare for those impacts, we will also be presenting insights from recent project work.

Stay tuned for our cities content! In the meantime we leave you with this video by the Asian Development Bank about entry points for urban climate resilience action in Asia:

Cover photo by Farzaan Kassam on Unsplash