By Philip Ayuen Dot, Juba, South Sudan
Monday Dec 7, 2020 SS24NEWS
African urban residents are predicted to grow their numbers from 11.2% to 20.2% by 2050 while globally it is predicted that two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities in the next few decades. South Sudan is right in the middle of those statistics as around 20% of its population already live in urban areas. Juba has the highest population of almost 1.5 million people, followed by other big urban areas such as Malakal, Wau, Jonglei -Bortown (Mading-Bor),Yirol, Nimule, Yei, Yambio, Aweil, Gogrial and Rumbek.
This urban centers have been growing rapidly in the last few years. Juba itself has grown in size approximately 5 times over the last one and half (½) decades. This rapid urbanization in the country is driven by three major things. The first being economic activities. Cities and towns provide sources of income for many young people.
The second would be administrative, the government carries outs its administrative functions in cities, and given that it is the largest formal employer, it then follows that wherever the government sets shop, the town shall grow. The third reason is population growth. The more people increase in number, the larger the cities become.
Other reasons include conflicts in the country that push people to the cities, and environmental calamities such as floods that see some people move from the rural area to the city. Seeking for education also plays a part.
But the infrastructure supposed to serve these urban dwellers isn’t expanding at the same rate. By infrastructure I mean, clean water availability, sewage and drainage pipes and electricity among others. This has led to a lot of environmental concerns, not just in South Sudan, but in other Sub Saharan Countries that are undergoing the same cycle of more urban dwellers than the infrastructure is supposed to handle.
Some of the environmental concerns that rapid unplanned urbanization is bringing up include water issues. From water scarcity, where clean treated water isn’t provided by the municipal services to everyone but has to be bought. At times the price increases so much that most people struggle to ration water as it is expensive.
And weirdly enough, another water issue that faces urban dwellers, is flooding. The drainage of most urban areas is not well developed and add to the fact that some urban areas are built next to rivers that occasionally break their banks, thus resulting into flooding i.e. Jonglei State.
Air pollution is another issue that faces most urban areas. This comes from the vehicular emissions that the traffic sprawls emit in the urban centers releasing nitrogen oxide and other toxic fumes into the air. Another source of air pollution in the cities is charcoal and firewood. People live in small houses that don’t have enough ventilation, so when they cook using charcoal or firewood or stove, the carbon monoxide that is released enters their lungs and is at times responsible for respiratory diseases.
Poor waste management would be another issue that urban dwellers face. This caters for both household waste and effluent that is supposed to have been carried by a proper sewage system. The lack of a proper waste management system is responsible for water pollution in urban centers that sometimes lead to cholera outbreaks among other water borne diseases. Other environmental problems assailing urban centers in South Sudan include climate change that is leading to unpredictable weather and extreme weather events, as well as recurring environmental disasters such as floods.
All these issues are dire and require urgent attention. The first thing that needs to be done is for the government and other concerned agencies to take the issue of urban planning and the welfare of all urban dwellers seriously. This means setting aside enough funds for all urban centers to be upgraded and for basic services to be provided to all people.
The next thing is to look at the existing urban centers.
Most of them were not planned for and some have a lot of informal settlements. Now, there is usually no need to displace people regardless of the fact that they live in informal settlements that need to be upgraded. Unless they are in danger from floods or other such calamities, urban planning for existing urban centers can be done in a humane way.
This includes sorting out people’s land tenure. Most urban dwellers would develop their pieces if the land tenure was made secure.
This would even motivate them to build basic sanitation infrastructure such as toilets on their own. Community participation is key when doing all these, the people need to be involved in their welfare and planning what would be where. This would bring up sensitive issues such as shrines, graves, churches that people would not feel too nice if the government decided to build a dumpsite or landfill next to.
The other thing that needs to be done is the regularization of the lay out of the urban centers. This simply means dividing up settlements in such a way that services can be made available to the people. As it is right now, if a fire happened somewhere deep into some settlement, and a fire engine was made available, due to lack of proper roads, the fire truck would probably not be able to get to the burning houses. So how about after every few blocks, creating roads?
This will allow even piped water in the future to be made available to everyone as there is ease of access into every household. This might involve relocating a few houses which stand in the designated road areas, but they can be well compensated or relocated.
Urban centers provide a lot of benefits to us.
But urban dweller’s welfare should not be neglected. For this reason South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA), has urban planners among their team of experts that would be of help to interested parties. Furthermore, SSEA can also be of immense help when it comes to matters of waste management, sanitation and creating awareness on the same.
The author is the Founder and Executive director of South Sudan environmental Advocates (SSEA) and can be reach via his email: Philipdot57@gmail.com or Web: www.sseasouthsudan.org Tel: +21192210499