Half of the worlds population lives in urban areas. This figure is expected to increase — by 2050, according to the United Nations, two-thirds of the worlds population will live in cities. People are drawn to cities as centers of economic activity, opportunity and innovation. In Africa, the rate of urbanisation is faster than anywhere else in the world and is estimated that by 2050, African cities will be home to 1.2 billion people.
In Zimbabwe, cities are changing fast, and this has increased their vulnerability to shocks and stressors such as extreme rainfall, droughts and climate shocks which have led to flooding and natural disasters. Whilst years of economic decline have left basic social services infrastructure unable to keep up with the growing urban population. This has been worsened by; unplanned settlements, including on wetlands ; a lack of basic services such as water and sanitation, health services, reliable; affordable energy and economic opportunities. Women, the youth and other vulnerable groups such as persons living with disabilities are the worst affected.
A National Comprehensive Urban Resilience Study initiated by UNDP and UNICEF, has indicated that the coping range of cities and dwellers is decreasing under the pressure of increased vulnerabilities caused by a variety of climatic, economic and socio-political stresses.
What is urban resilience?
Urban resilience is the ability of city residents, especially the most vulnerable, to cope with economic crises or natural disasters. In the Zimbabwean context it can therefore, be defined as: “the ability of urban systems and residents to respond, recover, maintain or rapidly return to acceptable performance levels in the face of disturbances; and further adapt or transform as needed.
Why focus on Urban Resilience?
Urban risks are unique and cannot be approached with the same strategy we have used for the rural areas. The rising trend of disease outbreaks and shocks in urban settlements will continue if not addressed and this will have a ripple effect on health. There is an urgent need to invest in sustainable solutions for the Basic Social Service and Water , Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and related systems to withstand the shocks and stresses.
Urban vulnerability is on the rise. The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare estimates that up to 2.2 million people in Zimbabwe’s urban areas are food insecure.
In 2018, Zimbabwe experienced a cholera outbreak which had an estimated 10 000 cases with 62 deaths. Glen View and Budiriro were the epicentres.
While disasters are not always predictable the degree of devastation and destruction can be reduced through the development of resilient cities. By incorporating resilience into our current city plans they will be better equipped to respond to natural disasters and prevent future disasters from occurring.
What are the steps to Urban Resilience?
Urban resilience study and strategy: The programme is generating new knowledge on how best communities can build resilience. There is a lot to be learnt about our communities, which is why residents are at the heart of the programme.
Local economic development: The programme aims to drive job creation in communities and empower women and youths with the skills they need for social enterprises development. It also aims to boost financial inclusion and the adoption of the technology necessary to bring positive transformation to communities. Special attention is being paid to building enterprises around Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).
According to the IMF, Zimbabwe has the second largest informal sector in the world relative to GDP. Around 94% of the country’s jobs are informal. The informal sector presents vast opportunity for youths. However, they can only realise these opportunities, if they have been prepared for them. By developing their skills, the Urban Resilience Programme, is giving the most vulnerable young people an opportunity earn an income and become financially independent.
Basic social services provision, including WASH: A key component of the Urban Resilience Programme is the provision of basic services, such as water, sanitation and hygiene. UNICEF works in this regard with Community Health Clubs and U-reporters to address the most pressing issues in the affected communities.
Advocacy: Policy advocacy should be sharpened, in the form of targeted campaigns, to influence local by-laws to be more relevant to the changes in the communities.
Partnerships are key :Urban resilience requires an incredible amount of coordination across multiple levels of government, between government, multiple industries and humanitarian organisations. A joint approach of various actors dealing simultaneously with several urban systems such as water infrastructure, governance, livelihoods and so forth can lead to long-term and sustainable results. Urban systems are very closely intertwined and affected by each other’s performance.
How are we working to build Urban Resilience?
UNDP , UNICEF and the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing have partnered together for the “Partnership for Building Urban Resilience in Zimbabwe” project. This project aims to address the urban challenges being faced in Zimbabwe. A one-year pilot phase on urban resilience, is being conducted in Harare (Glen View and Budiriro), Gwanda and Chipinge until 31 December 2019.
The need for resilient cities is recognised in sustainable development goal 11 — “Sustainable Cities and Communities”. It notes that resilience is a critical urban agenda, and an opportunity for cities, particularly rapidly growing cities, to ensure that their development can enhance rather than undermine their resilience.