Africa’s urban risk and resilience!

Mar 4, 2021, 11:37 AM

The literature on disaster risk and its reduction in Africa’s urban centres remains limited, despite evidence of disaster risks increasing with urban growth.

This issue brings together new synthetic reviews, detailed empirical case studies and practitioner and expert commentary to highlight the multiple ways in which risk and urban development are co-evolving in the region.

It broadens understanding about the nature, scale and distribution of urban risks, examining relationships between everyday and disaster risks across scales. Papers in the Issue also interrogate the role of governance processes in driving risks, including strong recognition of the role of social institutions where formal governance structures are incomplete, and the underlying knowledge and power relationships that shape urban risk management.

Potential learning from innovation is discussed in the light of the rise of resilience paradigms in urban development as well as the ongoing embedding of international agreements in local agendas that offer the potential to drive forward risk-sensitive urban development pathways.

The towns and cities of sub-Saharan Africa are the setting for myriad struggles over development futures. Such futures offer huge opportunities, but are also produced in the interaction with risks and losses from disaster events. Better understanding the actors involved in struggles to reduce risks, their partnerships, capacities and ambitions, as well as hazard contexts, is a central ambition for research seeking positive impact in the region’s emerging cities.

Indeed, new research and policy agendas concerned with risk and resilience are rising to be a core enabling framework for sustainable urban development. Risk and resilience are a prominent concern in UN HABITAT’s New Urban Agenda, a 20-year international framework for sustainable urban development which builds on priorities identified in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The SDGs present the development community with an integrated approach to risk management that recognizes urban development as a driver as much as a solution for risk and loss, and vulnerability a threat to poverty eradication.

However, it is important to consider how urban risks and resilience are being conceived in emerging theory and practice as concepts that hold multiple meanings and intentions for different actors.

Emergent framings of risk and resilience offer the potential to shift debates on and responses to the need for social justice in towns and cities, as a critical dimension of equitable and inclusive risk reduction and resilience building.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces mounting disaster risk rooted in deep inequality and environmental deterioration, and is being transformed by a late-onset and fast-paced urbanization process.

Disaster risk in the region has been increasingly urbanized. So-called ‘natural’ disasters have grown in the region as a whole since the 1970s with increases in human exposure to disaster risks largely driven by population growth in cities as well as urbanization interwoven with the effects of state fragility.

Despite the significance of large scale disasters, the impacts of everyday hazards (such as infectious and parasitic disease linked to unsanitary conditions) and small disasters (such as localized floods and shack fires) in the region cannot be underestimated.

Especially at the city scale, understanding the linkages between development process, underlying everyday risks and periodic disaster risk is vital if development is to be a force for reducing rather than generating risk.

A Guest Editorial