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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
 (Edited by Dr. Rˇbinson Rojas)

1. Cities and the Environment

Box 1.1 Abidjan: A Portrait of the African Urban Experience

Although initially a small lagoon village, Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, emerged as a prominent urban center in 1891 when the French chose it as the hub of railway lines linking the Atlantic Coast with Niger (1). For much of the 20th Century, the city flourished as a main harbor and seat of trade. Since the region's economic downturn, however, Abidjan's prosperity has faded, and the city is now faced with growing urban poverty and deteriorating environmental conditions.

In some ways, Abidjan is not representative of urban centers in Africa. On a continent where most urban areas are no more than large villages, Abidjan had an estimated population of 2.8 million in 1995, making it the third largest city in sub-Saharan Africa (2). Unlike many cities in Africa, which are primarily market centers, Abidjan has a relatively large industrial base. In addition, Cote d'Ivoire has benefited from a stable political history: Felix Houphouet Boigney ruled the country for the first 33 years after independence, stepping down only in December 1993 to Konan Bedie (3). His regime stands in marked contrast to those in countries such as Angola, now entering its third decade of civil war, and Rwanda, torn apart by ethnic strife (4).

In other ways, however, Abidjan is grimly representative of the urban crisis emerging across the African continent (5). Abidjan's problems mirror those of cities as disparate as Nairobi, Kenya; Lusaka, Zambia; Kinshasa, Zaire; and Dakar, Senegal. These and other cities are confronting rampant urban population growth, a breakdown in urban services such as water and sanitation, a deterioration in urban environmental quality, the AIDS epidemic, and growing social tensions--problems rendered all the more intractable by the extensive poverty of the region.

In part, the urban crisis in Africa can be attributed to the region's poor macroeconomic performance. Cote d'Ivoire's gross domestic product, which grew at an average rate of 9.2 percent between 1975 and 1979, plunged to negative levels in 1980 and continued to decline by an average of 1 percent between 1986 and 1993 (6). Within Abidjan itself, average household income declined nearly 25 percent between 1985 and 1988 (7). In recent years, this trend seems to have been accentuated by the effects of structural adjustment, which has had a greater negative impact on urban dwellers than on rural residents (8) (9).

Yet, despite its economic woes, Abidjan--like many other African cities-- continues to grow at phenomenal rates. The rapid urbanization sweeping the continent seems unlikely to slow soon; fertility rates remain high in both rural and urban areas. Migration has also played a dominant role in Abidjan's growth. According to 1988 census data, 37 percent of the population of Abidjan is foreign born (10). Recent growth rates have dropped to about 5 percent, compared with 12 percent in previous decades; still, an additional 400 urban dwellers are added each day (11). Growth has been fastest on the urban fringe, while the Plateau (the colonial center and business district)has lost residents (12).

This rapid growth has far outpaced the government's ability to provide urban services. The number of people without access to piped water grew from 800,000 in 1988 to almost 1 million in 1993--roughly 38 percent of the population (13). Around 30 percent of the population is serviced by sewers, 55 percent is served by septic tanks and latrines, and 15 percent must resort to open defecation. Most wastewater finds its way to the city's lagoons, which are highly polluted. Municipal, industrial, and hazardous wastes are combined before disposal, increasing the dangers for scavengers working at the site (14).

Deteriorating quality of life has had adverse impacts on health, such as a marked increase since 1978 in citywide mortality rates for infants. Conditions are the worst for the very poor in Abidjan. In the shantytowns, mortality rates for children are almost five times as high as in the richer districts (15).

Health infrastructure has also suffered from neglect. While Abidjan has the highest concentration of trained health personnel in the country, there are still only 2 doctors and 5 paramedics per 10,000 inhabitants. Costs of medicine and health care are prohibitive for the majority of the population. The need for health care is becoming more urgent in the face of the AIDS epidemic. In Abidjan, an estimated 10 percent of adults carry the virus. One study of rec-ords at city morgues showed that AIDS-related illness is already the leading cause of adult deaths in Abidjan (16).

As bleak as the picture seems, however, several projects involving communities and nongovernmental organizations are demonstrating that improvements in living conditions are possible without great financial outlays.

Some of the most promising strategies in Abidjan and elsewhere are those that link economic opportunity with environmental improvements. In Abidjan, an innovative trash collection scheme in the community of Alladjan not only helped remove garbage along the coastline but also provided steady employment for community members (17). Other programs, such as the Mathare Slum Upgrading Scheme in Nairobi, are community-led projects designed to improve housing conditions and provide dwellers with communal toilets and piped water (18). In Accra, Ghana, the development of urban market gardens has improved nutrition and created employment and supplementary income for the poor, in addition to providing 90 percent of the city's fresh vegetable s (19). In Ndola, Zambia, Habitat's training program has helped residents start microenterprises such as brick-making, not only providing income but also producing high-quality building materials at lower prices than normally available (20).

References and Notes

1. Koffi Attahi, "Planning and Management in Large Cities: A Case
   Study of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire," in Metropolitan Planning and
   Management in the Developing World: Abidjan and Quito (United
   Nations Centre for Human Settlements, Nairobi, Kenya, 1992),
   pp. 35-36.

2. United Nations (U.N.)Population Division, World Urbanization
   Prospects: The 1994 Revision (U.N., New York, 1995), pp. 132-139.

3. Howard W. French, "Abidjan Journal: No More Paternalism: But Public
   Executions?" New York Times (May 15, 1995), p. A4.

4. John Darnton, "Africa Tries Democracy, Finding Hope and Peril,"
   New York Times (June 21, 1994), p. A9.

5. Richard E. Stren and Rodney R. White, eds., African Cities in
   Crisis: Managing Rapid Urban Growth (Westview Press, Boulder,
   Colorado, and London, 1989), pp. 1-312.

6. The World Bank, African Development Indicators 1994-95
   (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1995), p. 33.

7. Atelier d'Architecture d'Urbanisme et de Topographie, Profil
   Environmental d'Abidjan, Volume 1, draft paper (The World Bank,
   Washington, D.C., August 1993), p. 22.

8. Lionel Demery, "Cote d'Ivoire: Fettered Adjustment," in Adjustment
   in Africa: Lessons from Country Case Studies, Ishrat Husain and
   Rashid Faruqee, eds. (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1994),
   pp. 116, 122.

9. Caroline O.N. Moser, Alicia J. Herbert, and Roza E. Makonnen, Urban
   Poverty in the Context of Structural Adjustment: Recent Evidence and
   Policy Responses (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., 1993), p. 123.

10. Philippe Antoine and Aka Kouame, "Cote d'Ivoire," in Urbanization
    in Africa: A Handbook, James D. Tarver, ed. (Greenwood Press,
    Westport, Connecticut, 1994), p. 143.

11. Op. cit. 2, pp. 133, 145.

12. Op. cit. 7, p. 10.

13. Josef Leitmann, "Urbanization and Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa:
    An Input to the Post-UNCED Urban Axis," draft paper (The World Bank,
    Washington, D.C., 1995), p. 18.

14. Ibid., pp. 19-20.

15. Op. cit. 10, p. 154.

16. Erik Eckholm and John Tierney, "AIDS in Africa: A Killer Rages On,"
    New York Times (September 16, 1990), p. A14.

17. Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF), Partnership for a Livable
    Environment (CHF, Washington, D.C., 1992), p. 26.

18. Wachira Kigotho, "Nairobi: Slum Upgrading in Mathare," The Urban
    Age, Vol. 3, No. 2 (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., June 1995),
    pp. 13-14.

19. A.J. Annorbah-Sarpei, "Urban Market Gardens: Accra," Urban
    Environment■Poverty Case Study Series (The Mega Cities Project,
    New York, and the Center for Community Studies, Action & Development,
    Accra, 1994), p. 20.

20. United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), Community
    Participation in Zambia: The Danida/UNCHS Training Programme
    (Habitat, Nairobi, Kenya, 1992), p. 39.


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