Thomson Reuters Foundation, trust.org (TRF)
By Janani Vivekananda
This week heads of state will formally adopt a ‘New Urban Agenda’ in Quito, Ecuador. This will aim to set the narrative for development in human settlements for the next 10-20 years, and strengthen links between urbanization and sustainable development.
Most urban growth is after all expected in the developing world; in the expanding cities and informal settlements of Africa and Asia. A significant proportion of this urban expansion is occurring in fragile and conflict-affected places. Here, the risks of unplanned and poorly managed urbanization resulting in inequitable, exclusionary, fragmented, and violent cities are significant.
International Alert and the Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) have been working together to examine the interaction of environmental and conflict risks in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest informal settlement, and the impact of three major housing and infrastructure initiatives on building future resilience.
What lessons do these projects hold for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda? How can we strengthen urban resilience in contexts where conflicts, environmental risks, and disasters collide?
Kibera, located in the centre of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, is one of the largest informal settlements in Africa. Residents of Kibera face many challenges, often including poverty, unemployment, insufficient water and sanitation infrastructure, poor housing and high rates of crime and insecurity. Kibera was also a hotspot of the post-election violence in late 2007 and early 2008.
With the Ngong River and major tributaries running through the settlement, flooding is a significant risk, particularly for those living closest to the river banks. Due to poor drainage and inadequate solid waste management, Kibera residents living away from the river banks are also subject to localised flooding.
Global climate change is already aggravating the flood risk residents face across the city as the intensity of rainfall events increases in line with projections for East Africa.
New infrastructure and services developed in the last two years under a program delivered by the Ministry of Devolution and the National Youth Service (NYS) have already contributed to improving the living conditions in Kibera. Roads, power lines, health services, water and sanitation blocks, urban agriculture initiatives, and police posts have emerged. For the first time, people can easily catch a matatu, boda or Uber into the heart of Kibera to get from work to home, or bring supplies to their businesses.
The Kenyan government along with the World Bank and UN-HABITAT have also undertaken major housing efforts. Two projects are notable in this regard; Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP) and the Nairobi Railway Relocation Action Plan (Railway Project) that introduced multi-story housing to the largely single-story settlement.
These three projects will go a long way in determining the future development pathways and resilience of Kibera residents. Despite some successes, there have also been many challenges. Indeed, some of these initiatives are creating new and renewed tensions due to a lack of effective consultation and engagement with affected populations.
With world leaders gathering in Quito this week to adopt a formative New Urban Agenda, city authorities and national governments in rapidly urbanising centres are making planning and infrastructure decisions that will lock us into development pathways for the next 30-50 years. Our research shows that meaningful participation and consultation is key to building social cohesion, and hence resilience, in fragile urban contexts. Finding workable and affordable ways to consult people on projects are critical to avoiding conflict and to creating responsive and flexible resilience development initiatives.
International Alert and KDI will be publishing more detailed information on this research in the coming months.