Humphrey Ngala Ndi, University of Yaounde I, Yaounde, Cameroon

Presentation Title: Regional policy and the growth in slum settlements in developing world cities



In 2007, UN HABITAT estimated that 72 percent of the urban population in sub-Saharan Africa lived in slums. Although the amount of slums is declining in the region, they will persist for a long time because their growth rate remains high. This growth can be attributed to rapid urbanization resulting from strong and persistent waves of rural-urban migration provoked by the failure of regional development policies in many developing countries. Using the case of Cameroon, this presentation showed the relationship between the demise of regional planning agencies and the upsurge in the number of migrants in the country's major cities since the 1990s. It also demonstrated that life in slums has become more precarious; faced with global environmental changes, resiliency to climate change-related issues like floods, increased disease vector virulence, and heightened cost of disease control and treatment has been reduced. A return to the pre-1990 regional development policy that ensured ample employment opportunities for the rural population is suggested. This would improve the social and economic characteristics of rural areas while limiting the number of people seeking migration to the towns, thereby reducing the propensity for slums to develop.

Key Lessons Learned

  • In cities in most developing countries, local and central governments are unable to build efficient and healthy urban spaces not only because of the lack of resources, but also due to the multiplicity of stakeholders involved in urban space management.
  • Nebulosity, inefficiency and conflicts of competences among stakeholders exist because of overlapping functions, which render coordination expensive and difficult.
  • The near collapse of regional development policy in developing countries including Cameroon has been a major factor in rapid urbanization, which has now overwhelmed the already weakened capacities of municipal governments to accommodate the influx of migrants. Housing schemes, while 'low cost', are not only insufficient, but are also too expensive and inaccessible to the urban poor.

Policy/Practice Implications of Research

  • Rural exodus is the main factor of rapid urbanization in developing countries and can only be regulated by effective regional planning, which gives room for the development of strong and attractive regional economies (both rural and urban) capable of restraining some people from migrating to the biggest or primate cities (a salient feature of Africa’s urbanization).
  • Sustainable planning is an indispensable component of urban and regional development.  The demise of development planning in developing countries is a major contributing factor to rapid and haphazard urbanization, which is vulnerable to environmental changes.
  • Basic elements of good governance equated with democratic virtues like effective political and financial decentralization in developing countries will alleviate the stress that the rural exodus places on the urban space.  This includes management of low cost housing and waste, reduction or elimination of squatters, and other public goods that local governments are often under pressure to provide.      

Knowledge Gaps and Needs

  • There is the dearth of data required for monitoring spatial changes in urban areas in developing countries.
  • The gap in the research is mainly methodological. The use of GIS built from remote sensing data can adequately capture the various themes in the urbanization and global environmental change research framework.
  • In many developing world cities, the only 'proof' of rapid urbanization lies with the population indices. Many municipal authorities lack in-depth knowledge of the spatial extent and characteristics of their municipalities. Studies that include these data sources and analytic techniques will be of prime importance to the many urban observatories set up by local councils to monitor and report changes in the structure of urban fabric, networks and buildings.