“It’s important to have this conversation simply because the population is growing at a rate never seen before. In the world, currently [there are] 7,243,784,000 people. Africa has surpassed the billion mark, which for a long time was hanging between about 800,000 and a billion,” Charl van der Merwe, junior researcher at the Africa Institute of Southern Africa’s Sustainable Development Unit, told CNBC Africa.
Van der Merwe added that it was however crucial to understand that the figures presented were projections, and could easily change due to any unforeseen circumstances.
The projections nevertheless provide a benchmark to set policies against. On the other side of the policy coin, however, are challenges that come with the rapid rate of growth.
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“As a globe, I think in terms of cities, the biggest issue is that the rate of this growth is coupled with urban poverty, which differs according to city, high levels of inequality, and inefficiency both in terms of the services that are provided and in terms of the institutional capacity of governments, policymakers et cetera,” Van der Merwe explained.
“Lastly, there are natural resources that we as humans need every day to live [that] are simply being diminished at a rate that we cannot afford.”
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At the same time, cities such as Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo have seen an increase in labour productivity due to a number of people moving to urban areas. In some cases, however, governments such as China have had to put in certain policies to control the population growth.
“The key word is to be sustainable. The fact that we live non-sustainably in cities is not going to go away, and the fact that there are poor people in huge numbers is also not going to go away,” said Van der Merwe.
“We need to find a way to balance the sustainability with averting these risks and being pro-poor. The paradigms of how we think about urban planning need to change.”