Past, present and future perspectives


Eastern Africa is the least urbanized sub-region in Africa, with 26 per cent of its population living in towns and cities (UNCHS 2001a). Within the sub-region, Djibouti is the most urbanized country with 83 per cent of the population in urban areas; Rwanda is the least urbanized at 6 per cent, although the recent violent conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi are likely to have impacted enormously on demographic patterns (UNCHS 2001a). Eastern Africa does, however, have the highest rate of urbanization of Africa's sub-regions (expected to average 4.5 per cent over the next 15 years), so the pattern is changing rapidly (UNCHS 2001a). Only a few cities in the sub-region currently have populations in excess of one million, namely Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) with 2.6 million, Kampala (Uganda) with 1.2 million, Mogadishu (Somalia) with 1.2 million, and Nairobi (Kenya) with 2.3 million (UNCHS 2001a).


Rapid urban growth since the 1960s has resulted from growth of existing urban populations and from migration to urban centres of people either seeking refuge from poverty-stricken rural areas and declining agricultural productivity, or coming in search of employment, and improved security of income and housing tenure. This pattern has created a high demand for housing and urban services. However, economic growth has lagged growth of population and urbanization, recording on average a slight negative trend in the 1990-98 period, although with wide differences between countries. Uganda, for example, reported net economic growth of 3.5 per cent in the period, whereas Burundi reported a net loss of 4.2 per cent (UNDP 2000). Negative economic growth has resulted in fewer funds being available for development and maintenance of infrastructure, in increased unemployment, and in people being less able to afford basic housing and services.


Residents in unplanned settlements tend to pay more for water consumed. For instance, in Nairobi, residents of unplanned settlements paid between 30 cents and 70 cents for a 20-litre container of water, compared to 17 cents per 20-litre container paid by consumers with water meters

Proliferation of slums and unplanned settlements in urban areas of Eastern Africa has been accompanied by inadequate provision of water supply and sanitation. Water supply is not only insufficient, but is also intermittent in unplanned and low-income residential areas. On average, access to clean water in the subregion's urban areas is 80 per cent, ranging from 100 per cent in Djibouti to 60 per cent in Eritrea (WHO/UNICEF 20001). Access to sanitation in urban areas ranges from 99 per cent in Djibouti to 12 per cent in Rwanda, with an average of 72 per cent (WHO/UNICEF 2000). In both cases, this represents a slight improvement on the situation in 1990 (WHO/UNICEF 2000). Residents in unplanned settlements also tend to pay more for water consumed. For instance, in Nairobi, residents of unplanned settlements paid between 30 cents and 70 cents for a 20 litre container of water, compared to 17 cents per 20 litre container paid by consumers with water meters (USAID 1993). Inadequate water for cleansing and for sanitation creates opportunities for disease and pests to breed and spread.

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View over the city of Kampala, Uganda

Ron Giling/Still Pictures

Discharges of raw sewage into rivers and lakes have also increased, creating a toxic environment for plant and animal communities, as well as for humans. Lake Victoria and the Indian Ocean coast are particularly affected (as evidenced by frequent episodes of eutrophication) owing to the concentration of towns and cities in these areas. Governments in the sub-region have yet to put in place effective policy measures and regulations to arrest the situation. However, a programme to privatize municipal services in Eastern Africa was launched by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements in the second half of the 1990s (UNCHS 1998). Improvements in water supply and sanitation have been made in Kenya and Uganda, although collection of payments is a serious limitation to maintenance of infrastructure and viability of continued operations (UNCHS 1998).

Unplanned settlements in Eastern Africa

Unplanned settlements have mushroomed in Eastern Africa, with negative impacts on the social and biophysical environment. In Nairobi, for instance, about 55 per cent of the population were living in unplanned settlements in 1993 (USAID 1993) and approximately 5 per cent of residents in Entebbe and 16 per cent in Jinja (Uganda) are squatters (UNCHS 2001c). Balbala, an unplanned settlement of 240 000 residents in the city of Djibouti, accounted for the largest share of the city's growth during the last decade (UNCDF 1998). Population densities in these settlements are usually very high, which encourages the transmission of diseases such as parasites and respiratory diseases.

In response to this situation, governments have taken measures to enact housing policies that will support an environmentally sustainable housing sector. For example, Uganda formulated a Housing Policy in 1978 that influenced the upgrading of Namuwongo lowcost housing and Masese Women's Self-Help housing projects. The National Housing Strategy was completed in 1992, a Land Tenure Policy was prepared, and services and planning have been decentralized. Capacity building for land use planning is still urgently required. In Kenya the government drafted a new housing policy in 1999 giving priority to upgrading of slum areas with minimal displacement, to allow for proper planning and provision of necessary infrastructure and related services. Between 1971 and 1991, the City of Nairobi received World Bank funding to provide urban housing and water supply and sanitation. An evaluation of the projects revealed that water supply had kept pace with the urban population growth and tariff restructuring had helped in keeping water affordable (World Bank 1996). About 65 per cent of the urban population now has water-borne sewerage, and significant environmental improvements have been noticed. A development project in the Balbala quarter of Djibouti brought improvements to living conditions for 1 164 families and established a development model setting standards for future infrastructure, equipment, and housing development (UNCDF 1998). Additional responses in Eastern African cities include the development and/or implementation of local environmental plans in Bujumbura (Burundi), Addis Ababa, Mombasa (Kenya), Kigali (Rwanda), and Entebbe (UNCHS 2001c).