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SA cities get 'green light'; litter abounds

Dec 04 2011 15:22 Carin Smith

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Durban - Not a single large African city performs well above average in terms of sustainability and not one rises above the others in this respect.

This is one of the findings of the Siemens Africa Green City Index released in Durban on Friday. The investigation was done on Siemens' behalf by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), comparing 15 cities on the continent in terms of sustainable behaviour.

Delia Meth Cohn, editorial director of the EIU for Africa, said at the presentation of the index that the 15 cities had been selected because sufficient data were available for analysis. She regarded the lack of data as one of the challenges the continent needs to surmount to plan adequately for sustainability.

“Two centuries ago only 3% of the world's population lived in cities and by 2040 or so 75% will be city dwellers,” said Siegmar Proebstl, chief executive of Siemens in Africa, at the presentation.

“Although 60% of the global economy is generated by cities, cities cause up to 70% of the global carbon footprint.”

It is estimated that Africa's funding need for infrastructure is about $93bn a year and Proebstl warns that a huge burden will be created without good sustainability planning.

He is nevertheless optimistic that technology already exists to cope with Africa's sustainability challenges, “if all players cooperate and stop seeking solutions on their own, like islands”.

According to Proebstl, the index offers the African green economy an aid to faster progress.

Meth Cohn stresses that the purpose of the index is certainly not to play off African cities against one another. For that reason they have not been ranked, but rather placed into five general categories, depending on whether they are very under average, under average, average, above average or well above average, in terms of sustainability.

In her view, if governments see what other cities on the continent manage to do through sustainability, this should help serve as encouragement to do better.

Cities' environmental management, energy consumption and carbon footprint, land usage, transport, waste, water, sanitation and air quality were investigated.

Cities in South and North Africa are the most environmentally friendly on the continent, according to the index. South African cities perform especially well in terms of environmental management, while those in North Africa do well in terms of service delivery.

Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg were in the above-average category, together with Accra, Casablanca and Tunis. Pretoria's sustainability was regarded as average, like that for Addis Ababa, Alexandria, Cairo and Lagos. Pretoria did particularly poorly in terms of its waste management.

Luanda and Nairobi's sustainability is rated below average and that of Dar es Salaam and Maputo as well below average. The latter two cities not only rate poorly in terms of environmental management, but about 70% of their inhabitants live in informal settlements.

“There is a definite relationship between the compass of informal settlements in a city and how well that city does on the index,” said Meth Cohn.

“Good management is of cardinal importance in a city's ability to develop smartly in a sustainable manner.

She said that cities certainly don't need to become richer to become greener. They just need to plan correctly. Informal settlements in Accra, for instance, are approached in an integrated manner in the city's development.

Political power, she says, should also be decentralised at local government level in order to succeed.

One of the categories that tripped South African cities up on the index was high electricity consumption, and this moreover from coal as a source of energy.

Meth Cohn said that the lesson learnt from the index was that there was no single wonderful solution for the sustainability of Africa's cities.

Rather, a process is required where a number of small steps are taken in an integrated manner under the watchful eye of a strong overhead institution, she said.

Edna Molewa, South Africa's Minister of Environmental Affairs and an honorary guest at the presentation, said it was no coincidence that South African cities were among those performing best on the continent. She ascribed this to the country's good policies on environmental affairs and sustainability.

“The index is one of the best guidelines for how South Africa should tackle environmental issues in future. It gives us examples of where we can improve. In particular we must ensure that the work done at national level also filters down to smaller municipalities.”

The 15 cities analysed for the index were:

- Cape Town

- Durban

- Johannesburg

- Pretoria

- Maputo

- Luanda

- Dar es Salaam

- Nairobi

- Addis Ababa

- Lagos

- Accra

- Cairo

- Alexandria

- Tunis and

- Casablanca.

Water, litter and concentration of people

About 30% of Africa's inhabitants currently live in cities and by 2035 this figure will be above 50%.

Every week about a million people stream to cities in Africa.

The carbon footprint from electricity consumption in South African cities is estimated at an average of three tonnes per person a year. This is more than five times the consumption by urbanites in North African cities, and more than 60 times that by the rest of the cities on the index.

The index cities have an average of 74m² green space per inhabitant. This is almost double that at the disposal of Asia's city dwellers, but less than in Latin America where 255m² is available to each resident.

The average population density of cities on the index is 4 600 people per km² compared with, for instance, 8 200 people per km² in Asia.

Index city dwellers generate about 408kg of waste per capita per year. This is less than Latin America's 465kg, but more than Asia's 375kg.

Water consumption in index cities is an average of 187 litres per person per day, compared with Latin America's 264 litres and Asia's 278 litres.

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