Nigeria ranks among the most urbanised countries in the world, and perhaps the fastest urbanising country in the African continent. In 1980, the urbanisation rate was 28.6 percent rising to 35.3 percent in 1999 and 49.8% in 2010 with the rate projected to increase to 56.8 percent and 63.6 percent in 2020 and 2030 respectively. The number of urban centres increased from just 56 in 1953 to 450 in 2000. Current estimates put the number of urban centres at more than 840 as all the 36 state capitals and headquarters of the 774 local government areas have now been designated as urban centers by the government.
If well planned and managed, cities and towns can engender economic and social progress, promotion of literacy and education, improvement of the general state of health and economic well-being, greater access to social services, and cultural, political and religious participation. However, if cities and towns are not properly managed, they may generate major environmental problems that could impact negatively on economic growth and sustainable national development. Unfortunately, the latter appears to be the situation in Nigeria.
Most of the urban settlements in the country are in a state of urban squalor and over-crowdedness characterised by decrepit structures, poor sanitary conditions, over-crowding, and under-provision of amenities and general deterioration of the urban environment. There is a huge unmet urban housing need leading to the emergence of numerous slums and squatter settlements.
Urbanisation has driven the conversion of agricultural land use to residential, industrial and other forms of land uses thus posing a challenge to food security. Furthermore, urbanisation leads to loss of environmentally sensitive land and amenity value, in addition to the fact that the built environment is a major consumer of natural resources such as timber, granite, sand and cement among others. Paving of roads, houses, commercial and industrial estates and de-vegetation especially trees traditionally referred to as the “lungs of the city” because of the ecological services they render, have been destroyed in most cities and towns. Consequently, there has been an increase in run-off from rain causing flooding and erosion in and around major urban centers apart from reduction in biodiversity. Informal sector activities which provide employment for most Nigerians contribute immensely to pollution, illegal construction and environmental degradation.
The situation may be further compounded by the impact of climate change, as the convergence of rapid urbanisation and climate change would be dangerous to our sustainable development. Increased temperature, sea level rise and extreme weather events are three dominant direct effects of global climate change on urban settlements/cities. Some of the key indirect effects of global climate change on our settlements may include reduced productivity of land, reduced access to water, and reduced air quality. In extreme cases, climate change could be an additional stress on urban settlements that already suffer from some combination of poorly managed growth, pervasive inequity, jurisdictional fragmentation, corruption, fiscal stress, and aging or inadequate infrastructure to trigger disruptive events and even political instability.
Climate change is likely to exacerbate existing health risks in cities and to create new ones. Specific impacts may include:
- Direct physical injuries and deaths from extreme weather events such as storm surges, intense rainfall that leads to flooding and storms that damage trees and overhead structures and produce dangerous transport conditions;
- Illnesses resulting from the aftermath of extreme weather events that destroy housing, disrupt access to clean water and food, and increase exposure to biological and chemical contaminants;
- Water-borne diseases following extended or intense periods of rainfall, ground saturation and floods, and saline intrusion due to sea level rise; all of which compound existing deficiencies in local water services;
- Food-borne diseases resulting from bacterial growth in foods exposed to higher temperatures;
- Illnesses and deaths from an expanded range of vector-borne infectious diseases;
- Respiratory illnesses due to worsening air quality related to changes in temperature;
- Morbidity and mortality, especially among the elderly, small children, and people whose health is already compromised, as a result of stress from hotter and longer heat waves.
Climate change constitutes an additional problem to the sustainable development of human settlements in Nigeria. It will heighten the vulnerability of poor and marginalized groups in informal settlements who are among the most exposed in urban settlements to disaster risk. In all situations, the urban poor are specially vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Their vulnerability springs from the informal settlements in which they live. In particular, their unique vulnerability is due to (i) ineffective or non-existent planning, and underinvestment in infrastructure, (ii) low quality housing with poor disaster resistance, and (iii) low income and insufficient resources.
The challenges associated with the rapid pace of urbanisation will complicate responses to climate change. However, urbanisation could also offer many opportunities to develop cohesive responses in both mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with climate change. The populations, enterprises and authorities of urban centres will be fundamental players in developing these strategies. In this way, climate change itself will offer opportunities, or it will force cities and humanity, in general, to improve global, national and urban governance to foster the realisation of human dignity, economic and social justice, as well as sustainable development.
Living and coping with uncertain impacts of climate change is no longer a choice; it is imperative. Nigeria needs to address the climate change adaptation of its settlements to ensure that its economic development can continue without disruption or setbacks, and investment in poverty reduction, foods and water security and public health will not be undone. An enabling environment for climate resilient and healthy human settlement must be created and mainstreamed into the development process of the country. This requires that:
- All stakeholders, including civil society organisations, must be mobilised for climate change adaptation of settlements;
- National planning must be improved to include climate change considerations to reduce its impacts. This will include developing and using climate-resilient building constructions methods and expertise in human settlement development;
- Ensure adequate quality and quantity of water for settlements;
- Combat climate change-related health concerns in settlements, including involving health professionals in physical planning for climate-resilient settlements; and
- Increase awareness on vulnerabilities and adaptation of settlements through timely gathering, analysing and disseminating of real-time information, among others.
In the long run, creating climate resilient and healthy urban and rural settlements will require collective action that blends the approaches of disaster risk reduction together with the principles of environmentally and socially sustainable development. In adaptation terms, Nigeria needs to undertake the following actions towards making its settlements more climate-resilient:
- Hardening of infrastructure to make it more resilient to extreme weather;
- Building seawalls to reduce the impact of rising seas and extreme weather;
- Improving housing quality to make it more resistant to storm events;
- Land filling to raise elevations for new development;
- Relocation to alternative settlement areas;
- Investment in cooling technologies to improve comfort as urban heat island effects take hold;
- Disaster planning to enable more effective evacuation based on improved early warning systems for storm events;
- Public health measures to address changes in disease vectors;
- Facilitating settlement of new urban migrants in more appropriate parts of the city and use of proper designs in new construction;
- Improved enforcement of critical building and land use regulations.
The country will also need to improve its capacity in the following areas so as to be able to protect its urban poor, reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and make settlements more healthy and resilient, as it is being done in other countries, through but not limited to:
- Improving the legal environment for land use planning, public acquisition of land, and regulatory systems for development controls;
- Setting up systems to map and develop the databases to identify and delineate settlements according to threat level from climate change impacts;
- Establishing low-cost settlement schemes as an alternative to further growth or densification of current settlements in highly vulnerable areas;
- Implementing community-based programmes to engage local residents on the longer term issues associated with adapting to global climate change;
- Research and promotion of alternative building and infrastructure designs and materials;
- Establishing emergency response systems for storm events;
- Information-sharing networks for cities facing similar adaptation challenges in the years ahead; and
- Developing and implementing pilot programs to create incentives for relocation of unsustainable settlements through market forces.
Enabling climate-resilient settlements in Nigeria will require a future proofing approach that will consider the growth dynamics of the urban and rural settlements in parallel with the range of potential risks which may impact its future development. The key intervention will be to support major settlements in the country to develop Action Plans which will chart a clear way forward, via the development of policies and other interventions that will help them to respond to climate hazards and promote a transition to a low carbon economy while reducing poverty and catalysing economic development through enhanced locally owned policy processes.
Integration of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management in urban planning produces synergies that can enhance urban resilience. Good urban and multilevel governance is a key to building resilience, particularly in urban centres. Sustained capacity development (individual and institutional) of the urban sector (as well as efficient financing) is crucial for building climate-resilient cities.
The complex biophysical and socio-economic dynamics that underpin urban vulnerability requires that much in-depth research be done to fill significant knowledge gaps that exist in our understanding of the dynamic relationships between climate change and urban dynamics to ensure that future climate proofing of our urban settlements will be sustainable. Emphasis should be on improving governance and making smart investments in the urban sector, taking into account the realities of the changing climate. Significant efforts towards promoting climate smart urban development could include (i) climate sensitive and effective urban planning and governance mechanisms; (ii) proactive relief plans, early warning systems, adaptation measures; (iii) enforcement of zoning laws; (iv) proper risk mapping to help avoid informal settlements in risk-prone areas; (v) flood vulnerability assessment maps; and (vi) support states and local government in disaster risk reduction and management planning.
Living and coping with uncertain impacts of climate change is imperative. Nigeria needs to address climate change adaptation for its settlements to ensure that its socio-economic development can continue without climate change-induced disruption or shocks and investments in poverty reduction, food, water, security, shelter and public health will not be undone.
(People who are interested in additional technical details can read the following reports: (i) FGoN (Federal Government of Nigeria), 2012: Nigeria’s Path to Sustainable Development Through Green Economy. National Report to Rio+20 Summit; (ii) New York City, 2013: A Stronger More Resilient New York; & (iii) UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) 2011: Cities and Climate change: Global Report on Human Settlements. Earthscan)
By Prof. Emmanuel Oladipo (Climate Change Specialist and Adjunct Professor, Department of Geography, University of Lagos, Nigeria. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)