Innovation key in sustaining fast growing cities


An aerial view of Eldoret Town in UasinGishu County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard] 


Over 50 per cent of the world's population lives in cities today, and the number is growing.

Everyone is chasing a dream in a land of plenty, while some run from climate-induced water stresses, mostly caused by prolonged drought.

If the climatic conditions are not any better in areas that supply the city with water, then rationing, conflict, theft and vandalism of water infrastructure become the norm. Pressure is also on roads, wastewater collection system, social amenities, transportation, housing, solid waste management and clean air. Demand for energy to manufacture, lighthouses and transport is going up. And since roads are inadequate, a lot of time is spent in traffic, with toxic fumes from running engines increasing risks of lung infections, stress and back problems.

More vegetation is cleared to construct houses and roads in and around the city. Before you know it, the city and satellite towns are heat-trapping concrete islands, unfriendly to humans and other creatures. Noise pollution due to human activities also increases, compromising communication among animals, birds and insects, yet it is crucial in many aspects of their lives, including passing warning or distress alerts and expressing the desire for mating.

In the rush to meet the high demand for housing, the need for trees, walking and cycling paths, or even playgrounds has been ignored. On the other hand, the risk of loss and damage in the event of flooding increases in informal and poorly planned settlements. According to researchers, by 2050, up to 70 per cent of the world’s population will be in cities. Even if that percentage were not to be the actual locally, there is evidence that despite devolution, the population in Nairobi has continued to surge.

According to the UN, Nairobi’s (metro area) population is 5.1 million now, from 4.9 million in 2021, 4.7 million in 2020 and 4.5 million in 2019, indicating a 3.8 per cent to 4 per cent annual growth rate. By 2000, the city harboured just slightly over 2 million people. Now UN projects a sustained 4 per cent annual population growth rate in Nairobi through to 2030. That means at least 200,000 people relocated to Nairobi annually for the last four years. It is not clear whether the exits from the city, whether through natural attrition or transfers to other counties happened at the same rate.

This needs smart thinking and fast action. Newer and upcoming cities must do the right thing now, even as the established ones restrategise. With partnerships, invest heavily in water harvesting (including desalination where appropriate) and maximum recycling, while at the same time ensuring equitable use of ground water sources. This will help humans, manufacturing and the wild.

Build more roads, but also increase number of foot and cycling paths. Newer houses must also incorporate green energy and vertical farms; it is possible to grow trees and some food plants within and atop buildings.