Resilience: A new lens for urban development in Africa

Resilience: A new lens for urban development in Africa
Source: Dana Omran
Date: 26-06-2018 Time: 12:06:43:am
Dana Omran is Managing Director for Africa at 100 Resilient Cities.

Lessons from the Global Network

100 Resilient Cities (100RC) defines urban resilience as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” Building urban resilience requires looking at a city holistically: understanding the systems and interdependencies that make up the city and risks they face. By strengthening the underlying fabric of a city and better understanding the potential shocks and stresses it may face, a city can improve its development trajectory and the well-being of its citizens.

One of the most powerful elements of 100RC is how our tightly knit network of 100 cities provides a platform for city-to-city learning. Every member city has something to learn from and to share with other cities, from Singapore to Santiago de Los Caballeros, Paris to Paynesville.

My work at 100RC builds on years of collaborating with municipal governments across Africa and the Middle East, fueling a deep appreciation for the challenging environments in which cities operate. In these two regions, urban centers face the added challenge of limited budgetary and regulatory autonomy, which can complicate the road to innovation and resilience building. It also means that cities must learn to be creative. One of the most enriching experiences at 100RC has been working with cities to adapt good practices from the global network and apply them in the local context with positive results.

Resilience in Africa

African cities are at the forefront of urbanization; an exciting prospect for us at 100RC as we think about how to build a global resilience practice. The cities of tomorrow aren’t being built in Europe and North America – they are being built in Africa and Asia. As the world moves toward becoming 70% urban by the year 2050, Africa alone is forecast to urbanize at a rate of 3.65% annually – adding 1 billion more residents to the continent’s cities by 2063. We see a metropolis like Lagos more than tripling its population to 34 million by 2050.

To accommodate this growth, African cities must plan for expansion in an efficient and equitable manner. Yet while 55% of Africa’s GDP is derived in cities, investment in critical infrastructure lags that of other regions. A resilience lens shows us that this is as much a challenge as an opportunity; cities around the world are piloting innovative approaches to city budgeting and project financing in support of urban resilience efforts. With much of the infrastructure of the future yet to be built, African cities also have a unique opportunity to build with an eye towards resilience – anticipating future hazards, improving community wellbeing and social mobility, and thoughtfully connecting to other city systems to maximize integration and minimize risk.

Leveraging Resources for Multiple Benefits

Applying a resilience lens in cities leads to better designed initiatives, projects, strategies, and policies. This is known as the resilience dividend – when a city’s resources are leveraged to produce multiple benefits. I saw this firsthand in Paris, whose recently released Resilience Strategy is focused on tackling climate-related threats while at the same time achieving social integration for its most poor and vulnerable citizens. In other words, the city’s climate commitments have actually been able to strengthen, rather than preclude, goals oriented at building greater social cohesion. This is what I love about resilience: the idea that through a single, elegantly designed solution, a city can address various challenges.

This is especially relevant for 100RC’s African member cities, many of whom are working to undertake difficult challenges such as reducing carbon emissions. We are helping these cities think through climate and sustainability initiatives while at the same time addressing some of their deep-rooted stresses around informality, waste management, and transportation.

Investing in African Leadership

What sets 100 Resilient Cities apart is our investment in local leaders. Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) in our member cities are unique because they sit within local government and are often directly accountable to the city’s chief executive; they are not external advisors that report to a donor or other external third party. 100RC’s investment in CROs and our deep focus on community engagement is essential to building resilience in the long term.

Advancing a successful resilience agenda across the region, however, will necessitate investment in a constellation of actors beyond municipal authorities. It is critical for CROs to regularly engage and collaborate with civil society, funding partners, and academic institutions, with the ultimate goal of expanding the pool of talented leaders who can embrace, champion, and implement resilience beyond city government. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world; it is incumbent on us to invest in current leadership as well as the leaders of the future.


Dana Omran is Managing Director for Africa at 100 Resilient Cities. In her time at 100RC, she has worked closely with several cities in the 100RC Network and around the African continent, from Paris to Kigali to Cape Town, to develop their resilience strategies.

Dana joined 100RC after spending almost a decade with the World Bank and International Finance Corporation in various capacities. At the World Bank, Dana led the global research team responsible for bench-marking construction and urban planning regulations in 183 countries for one of the World Bank Group's flagship publications, the Doing Business report. At the International Finance Corporation’s Investment Climate Advisory Services, Dana advised national and city governments across Africa and the Middle East on how to design and implement innovative policy and technology solutions to improve the reach of public service delivery, increase government transparency and support small and medium sized business growth.

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