Water control in African cities

Leading experts on water and urbanisation will present their latest research findings at a two-day conference in Uppsala, 1-2 March. “Water systems and urbanisation in Africa and beyond” is open to the public and will be especially concerned with the connection between urban expansion and water control in a historic and comparative perspective. The Nordic Africa Institute is one of the organisers. We asked NAI researcher Terje Oestigaard, one of the conveners of the workshop, two questions.

What can history teach us about the connection between urban expansion and water control?
– History cannot provide any conclusive answers with regards to how future problems can be solved. Each city is unique in its development in relation to water resources. However, history is also the only available knowledge we have. One of the aims of the workshop is therefore to discuss how many of the same challenges have been solved in different cities through time, or why some solutions have failed. In a comparative perspective one may therefore get valuable knowledge regarding how water control has enabled urban expansion with relevance for the future.

In 2007 the United Nations reported that for the first time in human history half of the world’s population is living in urban areas. In urban Africa, what are the greatest challenges in terms of access to and distribution of water?
– On a global scale, over a billion people lack access to clean drinking water and more than two billion live without adequate sanitation. This represents a huge health risk and water-borne diseases are a major killer. Questions regarding poverty and the well-being are therefore intrinsically linked to water, in particular in African countries but also elsewhere. Moreover, a major challenge in Africa is that the urban growth often takes place in areas where access to water is limited or the natural water resources are located far away. This poses huge challenges regarding how to develop the necessary and sufficient water structures. With the predicted increase in sea-levels, many of the expanding African cities also face threats from climate change.

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