Urbanization and Wellbeing in Africa

Urban Vulnerabilities, Livelihoods and Poverty

The Center’s research has over the last 15 years provided a window into the plight of the nearly one billion urban slum dwellers, the extent of intra urban inequities and the gradual erosion of the urban advantage in health in
Africa. We have also demonstrated the positive impact of increased attention and investment by governments and development partners in improving the living condition of slum residents. Emerging challenges such as security
could, however, continue to threaten gains made in improving slum living conditions. Slum growth seems to be an inevitability for sub-Saharan Africa’s rapidly growing cities, and poor health outcomes among slum dwellers will
increasingly influence overall urban and national health indicators. The dearth of evidence as to what works for slum communities demands a sharper focus on systems that can -and should- generate health and improve wellbeing.

With an overarching goal to characterize and understand the state and future of Africa’s urbanization, this Unit will work in three programmatic areas:

The signature issue for this Unit will be understanding and developing slum systems for health and wellbeing. We aim to clarify the role of slums as a feature of Africa’s urban spaces and determinant of overall urban well-being. This program will seek to map and track slum growth in Africa’s new and small towns, and deepen our understanding of slum-based and intra-slum inequalities in health, education and socio-economic status, and the impact of
slum residence on health and socio-economic trajectories over the life course. The program will also aim to characterize service delivery systems, and develop and assess service delivery models that are responsive to the slum context.

Through a program of work on environmental impacts on health and wellbeing in urban contexts, we will expand the scope of our existing research on air pollution and solid waste management to other environmental risks. We will aim to understand how key environmental risks affect health and wellbeing; investigate strategies to mitigate key environmental challenges facing urban populations; and understand the contribution of the urban built environment to physical and mental health and wellbeing. The program will also advance knowledge on how complex urban systems interact to create environments that promote or harm health and wellbeing.

The third program of work will be on the causes, course and consequences of rapid urbanization. This program represents an extension of our existing research into the pace and drivers of urbanization across Africa. We aim to further explore urban growth in small towns, examine regional perspectives of migration and linkages to urbanization, and contribute to the better definition of urban typologies in Africa. We are also seeking improved understanding of the direct and indirect impacts of rural-urban migration on urban support systems.

Featured Project

Towards Inclusive Urban Health Systems and Infrastructure: A Comparative Assessment of Access to Healthcare, Shelter, and Vital Infrastructure among Urban Refugees in Nairobi and Kampala

Program: Urbanization and Wellbeing in Africa

Although 60% of refugees and asylum-seekers now live in cities rather than refugee camps, studies rarely consider the challenges they face in accessing healthcare, shelter, and infrastructure.  Through a comparative analysis of Kampala and Nairobi, the proposed project will examine how urban refugees access healthcare, shelter, and infrastructure, while also exploring any shared challenges with residents of informal settlements who host refugee populations. This project will create South-South learning opportunities, and lessons for other cities facing strains upon healthcare or infrastructure provision to populations driven into the urban space following humanitarian crises elsewhere.

This study is expected to inform nuanced interventions and future collaborations between public health and city planning officials; civil society; and humanitarian agencies. Its findings will encourage farsighted, inclusive responses that may better address urban refugees as a result of humanitarian crises, with potential benefits for both refugees and low-income host populations.


PROJECT PERIOD: January 2018 to April 2019



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