Strong cities

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Addis Abeba and other cities and towns in Ethiopia face serious challenges of growth and management. There are issues of potential overcrowding, congestion, insufficient infrastructure and inadequate provision of services, which if not handled adequately will negatively affect social-economic development. Urban planning is key, together with the capacity to organize the city and regional towns, manage their growth and make them more efficient and sustainable.
There are good developments in terms of providing housing for families of various income groups and in terms of widening major roads in the city. Effective and efficient infrastructure will provide for the quality of life and enhance social and economic development.
We also see climate change causing more heavy rains and a rise in temperature threaten city life, causing flooding and health hazards. The sprawling buildings need to be constructed in a way to withstand earthquakes and tremors, while the sewage and drainage systems must be able to allow a smooth outflow of storm water and liquid waste.
Cities endure shocks and stresses including but not limited to unprecedented growth, water scarcity, unemployment, floods, fires and traffic accidents. To be able to withstand such shocks, investing in some of the following would have priority:
Water supply.
Better managing river catchments and related networks of secondary drainage, stabilising eroding river banks and preventing encroachment in flood prone areas.
Upgrading the drainage systems of major roads.
Upgrading and expanding electricity sub-stations, which I believe is ongoing.
Introducing an effectively targeted productive safety net to support vulnerable groups and households, impacted by shocks.
Such improvements in Addis Abeba and other regional cities would make them better places to live in and making them more resilient to shocks and stresses that undoubtedly will continue to come our way.
In planning any investments and expansions though, it is important to understand the nature of any immediate threats to people and assets, as well as the dependencies and interdependencies of urban services and systems, which can cause disruption or failure or compound existing vulnerabilities.
A holistic rather than a sector approach is necessary to identify critical gaps or areas of weakness, followed by the planning and implementation of aligned actions and investments. Such approach will help prevent disasters in urban areas and make urban communities better able to withstand hazards that come their way.
I foresee a few challenges though, including coordination, capacity to deliver quality works and the need to include the people in the neighbourhood in the entire process. In terms of coordination we see a road being constructed, only to be broken up to lay down the sewage or water piping system. Closing it again leaves permanent marks in an otherwise new road. As far as the quality of public works is concerned we see roads made but without proper sidewalks endangering pedestrians and with gaping manholes on the side, which people fall in to and which get clogged by solid waste instead. As a result, we create health hazards instead of preventing them.
In planning, it is crucial we include the people who live in a neighbourhood in the risk assessment and the planning. Their opinion in the design of the neighbourhood matters, including green areas, playgrounds, location of schools and health centres, the kind of business and services, solid waste management etc.
Otherwise we will continue seeing the youngsters blocking the road on Sunday morning to play a game of football. Let us ensure inclusive urban development planning instead.
Meanwhile we currently endure major interruptions of utility services. Businesses and households are suffering unprecedented interruptions in power and water supply, days on end. Do I need to repeat and explain the hazards such interruptions create, not to mention the damages to business, their equipment, production lines and additional costs to keep production and services going? Uninterrupted supply of water, power and telecommunications, including internet are essential to doing business effectively and efficiently. With the economic and social ambitions, we have, attracting investors and developing domestic industries, we must match our vision with reliable services to realize our ambitions. Failure to do so will not allow us to become the middle-income country we want Ethiopia to be.
I appreciate some of the challenges faced by the authorities to develop, maintain and upgrade systems. It would help though if challenges and measures planned for are communicated timely and clearly to the public and the business community, so that they can take timely measures and prepare for hours, days or weeks during which services will be interrupted. This will prevent unnecessary damages and hazards that to come our way and help us build strong cities indeed.

Ton Haverkort
ton.haverkort@gmail.com