I was recently quizzed on what I consider to be the key urbanisation issues in Addis Ababa based on my experience living in the city over the last year.
So here is a quick overview of five urbanisation challenges facing the city from my own perspective
1. Sustainability of buildings and infrastructure
Addis Ababa is currently undergoing a massive construction boom. Unfortunately, the design and construction of many buildings and infrastructure is of a low quality, with insufficient attention being paid to issues of environmental performance and life-cycle analysis. Understandably the government is facing pressure to meet rapidly growing demands for housing and infrastructure and to raise living standards. However, the current short-term focus on meeting immediate needs rather than considering longer-term issues of sustainability is likely to prove very costly in the long-term, due to the high cost and complexity of retrofitting and rebuilding infrastructure.
2. Urban planning and integration
The rapid growth of Addis Ababa is not being managed effectively by appropriate urban planning mechanisms. Consequently, urban development activities are not well-regulated and there is a lack of integration of new urban developments in transport, housing, commercial buildings, and utility services. For example, large multi-story buildings are constructed with no parking facilities on major roads where parking is also banned. Furthermore, there is a lack of consideration given to the effects of urban development on the existing character of locations and the emergence (and destruction) of precincts. Not to mention my personal bug-bear, the virtual absence of any consideration for pedestrians in urban design and construction management.
3. The informal sector
The informal sector plays an important role in generating employment opportunities for youth and recent urban migrants, as well as supporting the provision of goods and services to city residents. In particular, the flexibility and adaptability of the informal sector helps to mitigate the effects of disruptions caused by major urban development activities. However, the informal sector is not well-understood or appreciated by city officials and faces constant marginalization and subordination through poorly considered regulations and lack of genuine engagement.
4. Environmental management
Probably the one aspect that affects most people in the city is the lack of reliable and secure access to potable water, sanitation, and waste management services. This results in numerous public health issues for city residents, particularly the poor. In addition, heavy rainfall causes minor flooding, erosion of unsealed roads, overflow of sewerage systems, and disruptions to energy supplies, due to inadequate drainage and lack of green spaces to absorb excess runoff.
5. Investment in Human Capital
Investment in human capital is a critical component of sustained economic growth and development in cities and regions. However, due to underinvestment and severe capacity constraints the quality of education, health and other social services remains poor in Addis Ababa. Consequently, social development indicators and access to secure employment and economic opportunities remain low for many residents of the city. Moreover, the city is heavily reliant on technical support from foreign professionals across many key sectors and industries.
Other notable urbanisation issues include a poorly functioning urban land market, encroachment on productive agricultural lands from urban growth, and lack of modern banking facilities.
Well that’s my point of view based on my personal experiences. Any feedback or comments are most welcome.
In my next post I will highlight some of the ways the Ethiopian government is trying to deal with these urbanisation challenges and provide some suggestions of my own.