Uganda: Environmental Assets Are Critical To Sustainable Urban Development

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The FINANCIAL — Rapid population and economic growth in Kampala over the past 30 years has placed severe pressure on the city’s natural assets and ecosystems, such as water and wetlands, air, vegetation, and soil.  The Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) has begun to address these trends, but more needs to be done if these systems, on which people and productive activities both depend, are not to suffer continued and irreversible damage as Kampala expands.

In this context, a new report launched jointly today by the KCCA and the World Bank at the KCCA Climate Change Stakeholders’ Dialogue provides a valuable information and knowledge base to assist decision-makers in Kampala.  The report, Promoting Green Urban Development in African Cities: Urban Environmental Profile of Kampala, Uganda, summarizes the current quality and trends of the city’s environmental assets, identifies the key drivers of the city’s environmental challenges, and makes some broad recommendations as to guide sustainable planning and management of the city, according to the World Bank.

“The KCCA has begun to make decisions and take actions needed to address some of the urban environmental challenges,” said Roland White, Task Team Leader and Global Lead: City Management, Governance and Financing, at the World Bank. “This report will be a useful resource for policy makers involved in environmental resource management and urban development as the City of Kampala continues to develop as an important urban center of political, social, and economic activity,” he added.

As with other African cities, a large proportion of the population (in Kampala, it is at least forty percent) lives in unplanned, densely populated informal settlements that suffer inadequate provision of basic services, such water, drainage, sewage treatment, solid waste collection and transport. The physical and human impacts these settlements, as well as the expansion of poorly regulated economic enterprises, have led to the severe degradation of the city’s environmental assets.

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“Central government needs to provide the policy space for cities to play a much larger role in transforming unsustainable patterns of human development,” said Christina Malmberg Calvo, World Bank Country Manager for Uganda. “And it is important that cities integrate environmental considerations into the planning and management while they are growing, so these issues do not become an after-thought once it is too late.”

The report notes that rapid, poorly managed growth has had negative environmental impacts on Kampala through the consumption and pollution of resources, such as water, and the depletion of ecosystems, such as wetlands which are key to sustaining the quality of these resources.  Over time, the report shows, the deterioration of water quality and the eradication of wetlands, which function as a natural water-cleansing system, have had significant costs on the cost of water treatment for Kampala. 

Cities provide a range of “sustainability multipliers” that can be tapped to address social and environmental burdens. These include lower costs per capita for providing services in densely populated areas, greater options for recycling, and better opportunities for the use of public transport. The key is for Kampala to capitalize on these urban opportunities through strategic thinking and purposeful guidance, identifying and prioritizing critical natural assets so as to balance their preservation and development. 

Thus, city leaders can take a variety of proactive steps to help to promote sustainable urban development and reduce negative environmental impacts. These include:

Expanding and deepening information about the impact of urban development on the environment, particularly at the metropolitan scale;

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Developing a broad strategy to address pressures on these assets – this is particularly important for natural assets, such as the large wetland areas to the north-east of Kampala, which have yet to be substantially affected by urban growth, and thus present a key opportunity for preemptive action;

Identifying specific opportunities for Green Urban Development interventions, designed to mitigate the  environmental impacts of urbanization, supported by action planning to take these opportunities forwards;

Undertaking institutional actions to regulate, enforce and protect assets in line with what is already in current policy and law and the development of more sophisticated measures to address ecosystem loss.


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