How can African youth promote solidarity to reduce ‘urban heat island effect’ in African urbanizing communities?

How can African youth promote solidarity to reduce ‘urban heat island effect’ in African urbanizing communities?

By Matovu Baker, Uganda

Globally and specifically in Africa, the devastating impact of Climate Change-mainly attributed to urban sprawl are hardly rocket science anymore. The urban explosion; especially in the less planned urban areas in Africa has led to urban pollution domes leading to unbearable heat loads. The 2022 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report categorically documented that Africa has become a new face of global urbanization. Reports document that Africa’s urban explosion rates have ballooned from 35 percent to 44 percent in 2020; and is projected to reach 50 percent in 2035. However, due to urban planning deficiencies, the trend in urbanization is likely to pose more harm than good dotted with environmental degradation, emergence of slums, and unemployment, inter alia.  This is worsened by the increasing effects of climate change that are increasingly decimating African cities such as the increasing incidences of heat domes-a recipe for Climate Change induced vulnerabilities on health, socioeconomic, and environmental foundations of our cities.

Nevertheless, all is not lost as Africa is still at an early stage of urbanization, which presents a unique but rapidly closing window of opportunity for youth to steer cities in a direction of inclusive growth and sustainable development. This impetus is partly guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, with a strategic focus on supporting the formulation and implementation of spatially aligned economic policies and investments aimed at leveraging urbanization for economic growth and development. This opportunity could be leveraged by the increasing number of youth; who constitute a large percent of the population. However, how to integrate youth ideas to achieve this remains elusive.

In this article, I argue that youth efforts in ICT, social research, and increased knowledge sharing through academia and social gatherings can be leveraged through inclusive environmental actions such as Afro-urban tree planting campaigns and environmental advocacy campaigns. An example of these benefits are reported in a study in Germany that reported that that creation of urban public squares with grass lawns and wide street trees conditions could provide almost 25% more cooling effect compared to a completely sealed city street. Another study in India found out that more tree space boosts health. However, consideration should be made regarding environmental conditions that suit a given location. In other words, youth from East Africa can initiate inter-city tree planting campaigns, events and walks as the weather therein might suit similar species. This means that, even though youth might lack political and financial power to influence urban designs, they could be leaders in creating green spaces in a regional context that can promote outdoor human thermal comfort and sustain micro-climate conditions, thus reducing the impacts of climate change in urban zones.

(Image copyright:UNDP Kenya/Kevin Ouma)