16 September 2016
An astonishing 44 per cent of all African cities are considered highly fragile, while 51 per cent experience medium levels of fragility.
“There are no cities with a low fragility score in Africa,’’ a study conducted by a consortium led by the Igarapé Institute, United Nations University, the World Economic Forum and 100 Resilient Cities, has discovered.
Writing for the World Economic Forum, Robert Muggah, Research Director, Igarapé Institute said the initiative was launched to better understand the distribution of urban fragility and resilience.
The study showed that among many African countries, the most common factors driving up city fragility scores are chronically high unemployment rates and low access to electricity.
By comparison, roughly 70 per cent of Asian cities can be classified as experiencing medium levels of fragility, with a further 15 per cent exhibiting the highest levels of fragility (3-4).
In Asia, the key variables influencing high fragility scores are comparatively significant rates of terrorism-related killings and high levels of air pollution.
Third, the regions registering the “lowest” city fragility are in Europe, East Asia and North America.
In the Americas, the most influential metric is homicide rate. Meanwhile, countries reporting low levels of city fragility – especially those in Europe – also exhibit proportionately higher levels of electricity coverage and lower exposure to cyclones, floods and droughts.
Significantly, there are no highly fragile cities in Europe, while 52 per cent of its cities experience medium fragility (2-3) and 47 per cent have low levels of fragility.
The Americas – including North, Central and South America – features the highest number of cities with medium levels of fragility at 78 per cent and just 4 per cent with high rates of fragility.
Fourth, high levels of city fragility are not necessarily confined to low- or even medium-income settings.
While there are no “high fragility” cities (scoring 3-4) in high-income countries, there are over 40 high fragile cities in upper middle-income settings, 194 in lower middle settings, and 50 in low-income settings.
Even so, there is a comparatively strong relationship between high income and low city fragility and low income and comparatively higher levels of city fragility.
Fifth, fragility is not restricted to fragile states or conflict-affected countries but it is more likely to occur there.
There is an increased likelihood of higher levels of fragility for cities located in a fragile or war-torn country, the study showed.
Roughly one-third of all cities registering a high fragility score are located in a fragile country. However, 93 per cent of all cities located in one of the world’s 33 fragile countries report a high fragility score.
Likewise, around 81 per cent of all cities located in one of the 40-odd war zones also report higher levels of fragility.
To get to its conclusions, the group examined the core characteristics of fragility in over 2,100 cities with populations of 250,000 or more.
Cities were graded across 11 variables, including urban population growth rate, unemployment, income inequality, access to basic services (electricity), levels of pollution, homicide rate, terrorism-related deaths, conflict events, and natural hazards (including the extent of city population exposure to cyclones, droughts and floods).
Structured and unstructured data was collected from national statistical offices, international agencies and academic and private institutes.
There were two criteria for determining the selection of fragility metrics: a statistically valid association with the breakdown of city institutions, and a significant number of comparative data points across cities.
Muggah wrote that the good news is that city fragility is not permanent. There are positive cases of highly fragile cities turning things around.
“They start with a clear plan and an enlightened leadership. They often require successive mayors to stick to an agreed strategy rather than developing new ones.
“Ideally, these cities establish agreements at the national, state and municipal levels to align policy strategy and implementation.
In some cases, cities establish proactive partnerships with the private sector and purposefully build social cohesion across identified income groups.
While there is no silver bullet, there are several strategies that help enhance resilience in even the most fragile cities.
Cities that build inclusive public spaces and bring down barriers between wealthy and poorer areas tend to also register dividends in public security.
Investment in predictable public transport – including bus rapid transit – and access to basic services, especially in areas of concentrated disadvantage can reap long-term economic dividends.
Municipalities that adopt problem-oriented and evidence-based approaches to policing and create meaningful opportunities for at-risk young people are more resilient.
There is also growing awareness of what works when designing-in solutions for sudden onset and longer-term climate risks.
City authorities that develop municipal natural disaster mitigation plans, upgrade zoning and building codes (including provisions for mixed commercial and residential housing), and cultivate new technologies to strengthen emergency response are more resilient.
A key is to build in mechanisms for local engagement. After all, local populations are the first and last responders, and therefore crucial in helping a city shift from fragility to resilience, Muggah wrote.