© Peter Hassall

Urbanisation and risk in Africa

Arup International Development is contributing to a research consortium called UrbanARK (www.urbanark.org) studying the nature and distribution of risk in under-researched urban areas in Africa.

Given the rapid pace of urbanisation and development of the built environment in African cities, there is a need to understand how these processes are influencing risk for the cities and local communities. Arup has worked in multiple African cities but little work has been done to map these processes for specific cities and to explore the accumulation of risk in the urban context from everyday risk, multiple hazards, multiple vulnerabilities and capacities, and urban planning.

We carried out a specific review of urbanisation and risk in three East African cities where Arup is currently delivering (or has recently delivered) projects: Nairobi (Kenya), Kampala (Uganda), and Arusha (Tanzania). We used three methods:

1) Mapping of the physical urban growth and expansion through a spatial interpretive analysis of historical and current trends in the 3 cities;
2) Identification of the major public infrastructure and significant real-estate developments in the 3 cities that have been delivered or planned within the last 5 years; and
3) Identification of an initial set of key hazards and risks for the 3 cities.

This information was compiled to produce a map of each city showing growth patterns, recent major developments and the location of slums and significant green areas – the latter two were included to give an indication of where the most significant areas of social and environmental risk could be.

The project was successful in producing the city maps through desk study, technical expert consultation and key informant interviews.

There is a strong similarity in the growth patterns for all three cities, being limited by natural and man-made barriers, such as topography and protected land.

The hazards identified through the literature review and key informant consultation are quite different across the three cities. They include traditional geophysical hazards such as landslides, climate related hazards such as stormwater leading to flooding, as well as social issues such as social unrest and terrorism.

The study clearly revealed that in order to understand urban risk related to significant developments, we need to consider a wide range of possible threats beyond the immediate vicinity of the development. It is also important to consider a wide range of stakeholders, and that vulnerable communities in informal settlements neighbouring these developments are also considered.

This research project developed basic urban knowledge of three under-researched cities in Africa. The outputs will inform our future work in one of the fastest urbanising regions in the world. The findings provide a platform for transparent discussions with city leaders on the growth of their city - the maps together with the list of hazards and locations of significant developments enable Arup to speak authoritatively and without bias with city leaders about the current growth trends in their city. The Arup team and consortia partners (e.g. UCL, KCL) will use the maps to inform future stages of the UrbanARK project – including identifying and selecting case study projects and understanding how the location of significant developments can affect the landscape of risk in the city.

Our insight into the context of urbanisation in three key East African cities enables us to better understand urban growth and potential urban risk from significant capital investment projects. This work has raised the profile of Arup globally and within East African cities – Arup is the only private sector organisation involved in the international research consortium. Our work on UrbanARK has contributed to our recent appointment as Strategy Partner for 100 Resilient Cities in Nairobi. Arup has built relationships with key stakeholders while engaging with world-leading academics on the spatial growth of the cities has deepened our understanding further. Most directly, the outputs can be used to inform Arup’s on-going work in Nairobi, Kampala, and Arusha.