Strengthening essential services in African cities

The African Development Bank, Cities Alliance and UNOPS are launching a new report on strengthening essential services in African cities, as part of a series of the AfDB’s Sustainable Urban Development Action Plan 2021-2025.

They arrive in Africa’s expanding cities from rural areas as young adults. With the help of distant relatives or contacts in their villages, they find accommodation in informal settlements on the outskirts of towns, then various odd temporary jobs. Over time, they start families. Makeshift houses are built by combining locally discarded materials with local wood or other rapidly diminishing local resources. The roads are made of mud and sewage is not collected. Entire communities are sprouting up that are largely underserved by local infrastructure.

Such migration stories are transforming cities across Africa. They are one of the reasons the continent has many of the fastest growing economies in the world. But the lack of infrastructure is preventing Africa from reaching the next level of development and improving people’s lives.

The case for infrastructure spending is obvious. But how can we manage this vast backlog in service delivery?

The need for more infrastructure, from water systems to waste management to energy, to support growing urban populations is staggering. In much of the continent, poorly managed urban growth has led to the proliferation of slums, informal settlements, urban poverty and rising inequality. Yet, the funding available to undertake such projects is insufficient.

Much of the continent’s needs are not keeping up with population growth and a huge backlog of infrastructure projects lacks funding. Indeed, the needs are so great that the usual approach to sustainable urban development will not work and new models of infrastructure financing and delivery, which respond to the current fragmented infrastructure networks and hybrid service delivery models urban, are necessary.

Monrovia, Liberia

Over the past 20 years, Cities Alliance has been at the forefront of documenting these challenges and finding local solutions in all parts of Africa.

We run national programs across the continent and recently undertook a very detailed study of 32 African cities in four countries: Mozambique, Ghana, Ethiopia and Uganda. The studies examined the dimensions of governance, citizenship, environment, economy and the level of essential services.

This deep and practical understanding of the challenges facing African cities at the levels of national governance, city and community capacity, has served as the basis for the development of a series of documents in support of the African development bank Sustainable Development Action Plan 2021-2025 (PAUD).

The SUDAP documents were articulated around key areas: governance, essential services, mobility, housing, circular economy, climate change and resilience.

Essential Fixes for Municipal Services

In the case of more essential service provision, the new report Strengthening Essential Support in African Cities, jointly produced by the AfDB, UNOPS and Cities Alliance, shows that many African cities are facing service crises.

To download

The publication, launched at the World Urban Forum, highlights the need to break away from the notion of large-scale service delivery as the only means of service delivery and instead consider the informal economy, community-based organizations and public-private partnerships like some of the channels to provide services.

The report provides recommendations based on transformative approaches to infrastructure development in Africa, in countries like Togo. Kenya and Uganda. The recommendations follow a three-pillar approach:

  • quick-impact and high-impact work on renewable energy and digital infrastructure;
  • an interconnected, systemic and essential intervention to provide access to water;
  • improved sanitation and waste management, as fundamental services for basic human health.

We need to focus on what can be done quickly and has a big impact. The heaviest infrastructure projects should be decentralised, as should the provision of services mainly around sanitation issues.

Julian Baskin, Senior Urban Advisor, Cities Alliance

Africa is at a turning point. The challenges of development are many, but so are the opportunities. African cities have the opportunity to adopt low-emission, climate-resilient and equitable development pathways to respond to the climate crisis while simultaneously reducing poverty and inequality.

Michelle J. Kelley