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Ecological Consequences of Urbanization in Africa


Throughout Africa, urbanization is increasing. Urban areas have expanded enormously in population and size and there is growing concentration of population in a few large cities especially in the national capitals. In 1950, Africa was the least urbanized continent with only 14.5 percent of the population in urban areas. However, by 1990, 34.5 percent of the population of 749 million was living in urban areas. The UN has projected that if the trends continue, the urban population would increase to 914 million by 2025, or four times the 1990 level.

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Although urbanization is growing throughout the world, the growth of cities is more rapid in the developing countries especially Africa where annual growth rate is 1.6% compared to 0.8% in the developed countries. In 1950, Africa was the least urbanized continent with only 14.5% of the population in urban areas, but by 1988, about 35% of Africa’s population of 749 million people was urban. UN projections indicate that the urban population will increase to 914 million by 2025 or 4 times the 1990 levels.

In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the least urbanized but most rapidly urbanizing part of the world, the United Nations projects that nearly one-half (49%) of the population will be urban by 2025 (UN, 1996). Ecological Consequences of Urbanization in Africa

In many African countries, urbanization has resulted in rapid population growth and concentration of people and industries in few urban areas such as Accra (Ghana), Lagos (Nigeria), Monrovia (Liberia), Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire) etc. Urban population growth has been fuelled by massive rural-urban migration from remote towns and villages to large cities and urban centers, in the belief that urban centers provide better job opportunities, social services and wages.


The causes of rural-urban migration are many. There are so many people migrating to the urban areas, and they are doing so because the types of activities that ought to be taking place in the countryside to keep the youth in the rural areas do not exist. The main causes of urbanization in Africa include rural-urban migration; high natural rate of increase and urban bias development strategies.

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(a) Rural-urban migration

Movement of people from the rural to the urban areas is the most important cause of urbanization in Africa. Added to this are the predominance

of young adults, and more or less equal proportions of males and females whose desire for large families is high.

(b) High birth and low mortality rates

Africa has the highest fertility and natural rates of increase in population in the world. Data from censuses and surveys suggest levels of total fertility mostly between six and seven children per woman. Population growth has become the highest in the world because of a sustained decline in mortality due to improved medical care and sanitation. Ecological Consequences of Urbanization in Africa

(c) Urban bias development strategies

Pro-urban development strategies adopted by countries have left urban areas more developed than the rural areas. The greater opportunities cities offered in the urban areas in terms of employment, education, health and other facilities tend to attract the youth to the urban areas.

Whilst the urban population is growing rapidly through natural increase (i.e. more births and deaths), immigration or migration from the rural to urban areas is also increasing. In most parts of Africa, rapid flow of migrants from rural to urban areas and rapid urbanization began after most countries gained independence in the 1960s. During the colonial era, migration from rural to urban centres was suppressed by law, in some


  • Urbanization leads to economies of scale in provision of water, health, education, electricity and other services.
  • Industries benefit from concentration of suppliers and consumers and allow savings in communications and transport costs.
  • Cities serve as commercial, administrative, and growth centers and are generally places for production and consumption of goods and services.
  • Cities provide big, differentiated labour markets and help to generate new ideas and accelerate the pace of development of technological innovation and dissemination.


Firstly, as urban areas grow, demand for land for housing, agriculture and urban infrastructure increases leading to increased pressure on farmlands, forests and water resources. Secondly, rapid urbanization accelerates desertification and environmental change, leading to water scarcity, soil erosion, and climate change A prosperous urban center provides a number of benefits and contributes to poverty alleviation through the provision of:

  • Markets for agricultural and industrial goods
  • Financial resources
  • Employment opportunities for agricultural and industrial activities
  • Resources and capacities for government and politics
  • Centers for artistic, scientific and technological innovations and of culture and education
  • A wide range of cost-effective services including health and education.


The major challenges to rapid urbanization and population growth include:

  • Inadequate sanitation, air and water pollution
  • Inadequate housing and overcrowding
  • Environmental degradation such as deforestation, soil erosion etc
  • Climate change, food insecurity
  • Competition for water and land
  • Exposure to higher risks of accidents
  • Crime and diseases e.g., HIV/AIDS
  • Poverty and deprivation and natural disasters

Solutions of Urbanization

Building sustainable and environmentally friendly cities

Governments should pass laws that plan and provide environmentally sound cities and smart growth techniques, considering that people should not reside in unsafe and polluted areas. The objective here is to build sustainable cities that embrace improved environmental conditions and safe habitats for all urban populations. Governments should also encourage sustainable use of urban resources and support an economy based on sustainable environment such as investment in green infrastructure, sustainable industries, recycling and environmental campaigns, pollution management, renewable energy, green public transportation, and water recycling and reclamation. Ecological Consequences of Urbanization in Africa

Provision of essential services

Urban stakeholders must ensure all populations within the urban areas have access to adequate essential social services namely education, health, sanitation and clean water, technology, electricity, and food. The objective here is to provide and implement employment opportunities and wealth creation activities so that people can earn a living to pay for the maintenance of the services. Subsidies can also be availed by the government to lower the costs of basic healthcare, basic education, energy, education, public transportation, communication systems and technology.

Creation of more jobs

To lessen the negative effects of rapid urbanization while at the same time conserving natural ecosystems, private investments should be encouraged so as to utilize natural resources and create more job opportunities. Tourism promotion and the sustainable exploitation of natural resources can create more jobs for the urban populations. Subsidies and grants may as well be provided to foreign and private investment in environmentally friendly development projects that encourage job creation.

Population control

Key stakeholders in urban areas must provide campaigns and counseling for effective medical health clinics and family planning to help reduce the high rates of population growth. Medical health clinics oriented towards family planning options must be made accessible across the entire urban area with the objective of controlling diseases and population growth.


  • A strategy to reduce environmental damage caused by rapid urban urbanization is to plan urban areas in such a way that they can provide

a real sense of community, with good sanitation, adequate housing, health care and education facilities.

  • The focus of today’s cities must be towards better urban development. Government policies to urban unemployment and environmental

problems must be based on knowledge of who comes to the city and how they cause and contribute to the problems in the city.

  • Recycling of domestic and industrial wastes should be promoted to improve degraded soils and urban agriculture.
  • Ensure effective urban infrastructure planning and enforce planning laws and regulations
  • Develop the rural areas to curb rural-urban migration
  • Intensify family planning and population control programs
  • Recycle domestic and industrial wastes and improve urban sanitation
  • Encourage industries to locate in the rural areas
  • Promote HIV/AIDS education
  • Improve sustainable urban agriculture
  • Promote sustainable co-management of urban natural resources. Ecological Consequences of Urbanization in Africa


Urbanization results in a series of both local and far-reaching effects on biodiversity, biogeochemical cycles, hydrology, and climate, among many other stresses. Many of these effects are not fully understood, as urban ecology has only recently emerged as a scientific discipline and much more research remains to be done. Research on cities outside the US and Europe remains limited. Observations on the impact of urbanization on biodiversity and species interactions are consistent across many studies but definitive mechanisms have yet to be established. Urban ecology constitutes an important and highly relevant subfield of ecology, and further study must be pursued to more fully understand the effects of human urban areas on the environment.

Although people are pulled towards the advantages of cities, the impacts of urbanisation are mixed. First we will look at the many positive impacts of urbanisation before going on to describe some of the challenges created by rapid unplanned urban growth. Ecological Consequences of Urbanization in Africa

Thriving towns and cities are an essential element of a prosperous national economy. The gathering of economic and human resources in one place stimulates innovation and development in business, science, technology and industry. Access to education, health, social services and cultural activities is more readily available to people in cities than in villages. In cities, child survival rates are better than in rural areas because of better access to health care (Mulholland et al., 2008). The density of urban populations makes it easier and less costly for the government and utilities to provide essential goods and services (Brockerhoff, 2000). For example, the supply of basic facilities such as fresh water and electricity can be achieved with less effort and less cost per person.


Schools, colleges and universities are established in cities to develop human resources. A variety of educational courses are available, offering students a wide choice for their future careers. People of many classes and religions live and work together in cities, which creates better understanding and harmony and helps break down social and cultural barriers. Cities also have advanced communication and transport networks.

However, these many benefits of urban life do not apply to all. Rapid population increases and unplanned growth create an urban sprawl with negative economic, social, and environmental consequences. In Ethiopia, the rate of urban growth often strains the capacity of local and national government to provide urban residents with even the most basic services of housing, water supply, sewerage and solid waste disposal (MWUD, 2008). Ecological Consequences of Urbanization in Africa

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