Urbanization in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities for Conservation

Environmental Research Letters

Burak Güneralp, Shuaib Lwasa, Hillary Masundire, Susan Parnell, Karen C Seto

Africa, a continent exceptionally rich in biodiversity, is rapidly urbanizing. Africa’s urbanization is manifest in the growth of its megacities as well as that of its smaller towns and cities. The conservation planning and practice will increasingly need to account for direct and indirect impacts of the continent’s urbanization. The objective of our study is to pinpoint the outstanding challenges and opportunities afforded by the growing cities on the continent to the conservation goals and practices. While there have been many studies on the impacts of urbanization and development on conservation in Africa these studies tended to focus on specific issues. Here, we provide a synthesis of this body of work supported by new analysis. Urban areas, growing both in population and in land cover, pose threats to the integrity of the continent’s ecosystems and biodiversity but their growth also create opportunities for conservation. The burgeoning urban populations, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, increase the strain on already insufficient infrastructure and bring new governance challenges. Yet, Africa’s ecosystems can serve as foundations for green infrastructure to serve the needs of its urban populations while safeguarding fragile biodiversity. Overall, while worsening social problems overshadow the concerns for biodiversity there are also promising initiatives to bring these concerns into the fold to address social, institutional, and ecological challenges that emerge with the continued urbanization of the continent.

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