How to create harmonious cities.

Position:4th World Urban Forum, Nanjing

Although African cities are the fastest growing in the world, Africa itself is the least urbanised region in the world. In 2008, only 39.1% of Africa population lived in cities and towns.

Africa's urban population is highly unevenly distributed, ranging from 22.7% in East Africa to 57.3% in Southern Africa. Among individual countries, urbanization rates provide even greater contrasts, ranging from 10.1% and 12.8% in Burundi and Uganda to Gabon's 84.7% and Djibouti's 87%, although the highest rate was in the island of Reunion with 93.1%.

In 2005 (the latest date for which figures are available), 43 African cities had populations of more than one million inhabitants; 10 years ago, only 28 cities had a million or more population.

African cities generate an average of 55% of the continent's total GDP, although at least 43% live below the poverty line. In some countries this share exceeds 50% with 60% of Kenya's urban population living in slums. Slums in Africa are growing at the rate of about 4% per annum. African urbanisation is therefore characterised by slum formations.

In contrast, a prominent feature of Asian urbanisation is that of metropolitan expansion in which urban populations are relocating to suburban areas or satellite towns linked to the main city through commuter networks.

Interestingly, although the major African cities are growing rapidly, most of the new urbanisation is focused on smaller towns with populations of 500,000 or less.

This trend is very similar to that in Latin America and the Caribbean (the most urbanised region in the developing world) although urban growth is more often the result of people moving from one city to another rather than from the rural areas. African civic authorities can prevent the emergence of slums by learning from the Latin American experience and facilitating housing, livelihoods and services for the burgeoning populations.

Poor sanitation, the lack of clean water, low-quality shelters, absence of health services and lack of employment opportunities which lead to poverty are estimated to claim at least one million African lives each year.

Cairo and Lagos are the first African megacities although Kinshasa will join them by 2015. By 2025, Kinshasa, Lagos and Cairo will have 16.7m, 15.7m and 15.5m inhabitants respectively.

Although all slum areas suffer from similar deficiencies such as lack of food, education, health and basic services and unfit housing, not all slum are the same.

For example...

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