At least two people were killed in recent flooding in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, eight in Durban, South Africa, and 15 in Rubanda, Uganda. Floods are becoming a regular phenomenon in African cities. While climate change contributes to this wave of extreme weather, poor city planning and design, old infrastructure, and a lack of urban policy for slums are also to blame. Until the faulty structures, like non-functioning drainage systems, are updated, floods will accompany seasonal rains, especially in slums.
In Lagos, Nigeria, for instance, a poorly planned drainage system makes flooding a costly annual expense. Houses and offices are built without city permits or adequate systems to remove surface water. When the flood waters rise, slum dwellers’ properties are washed away with their belongings, lives are lost, and economic activity is disrupted. Governments and citizens often skirt around the issue by clearing drains without allocating sufficient resources to address the damage done by the floods. This sets back progress, disrupting people’s health, economic activity, and other aspects of life across the region. But the problem is bigger than Lagos. From Dar es Salaam to Abidjan, Accra to Johannesburg, African cities are playing catch-up with rapid, unplanned urbanization. Thus, while the problem may appear more acute in Lagos, other African cities are also experiencing a strain on existing infrastructure as urban areas become more populous and city officials try to prevent the formation of new slums.
Africans need solutions for the African cities we have. With recurring floods inevitable, insurance companies should offer affordable plans that allow people to more easily recover from storms. There is a market for a well-designed insurance product that helps women in particular who are thriving in informal sector but whose ventures are too fragile to cope with climate-related disasters. Floods destroy dwellings, but, more importantly, they also wash away trading stock and even the working capital under the mattress. Ghana’s digital addressing system could prove a good starting point to develop an insurance scheme to help citizens prepare for climate- and human-enhanced weather events. Other cities should consider the same policy as part of a collection of services that promote financial inclusion. Designing cities with individuals and businesses in mind means providing access to useful and affordable financial products and services.