AFRICAN CITIES - Uganda's jungle city.
No one would have thought of building a city in a jungle wetland. But that is precisely what happened in the case of Kampala in Uganda.
The name Kampala is derived from the word k'empala, meaning home of the impala, a type of African antelope. Traditionally, the Kabaka (king) of Buganda, a subnational kingdom in Uganda, had reserved the area for wildlife, where he often had the pleasure of hunting expeditions, before colonialists made it a city in 1947.
Kampala is now a modern jungle. Kisenyi slum, nestled in the heart of the city, illustrates the point: rubbish dumps, overflowing pit latrines, makeshift homes and illegal bars line the streets alongside an army of idle youth, prostitutes and drug addicts.
The city's business districts of Kikuubo, Nakasero, Shauri Yako and Owino are other jungles, where thousands of street vendors, kiosks and lock-up shops mix with retail and wholesale stores to compete for customers.
When it rains, the lower parts of the city such as Bwaise are flooded, with dozens of homes washed away. Every year dozens of people die in the city floods. Overcongestion is making the situation in Kampala worse.
The past three decades have seen massive migration into the city and the population has grown from 1m to 4.5m people. "With the annual growth of about 4%, the city population is continuing to swell. It is among the most densely populated cities in the world with about 8,500 people per sq km, ahead of some of the world's densely populated cities such as SEuo Paulo of Brazil, Milan of Italy and Nairobi of Kenya," says Peter Kaujju, the city spokesman.
Kampala Capital City Authority executive director Jennifer Musisi says Kampala is the heart and soul of the country: "About 80% of Uganda's economic activities, which contribute 65% to the country's gross national product, are transacted in the city. Yet the city's pivotal role in the country's economic life does not match investment in its physical infrastructure, which has largely remained the same since the 1960s."
Kaujju says the 1,200km city road network built in the 1960s was meant for a maximum of 10,000 vehicles. "Today over 400,000 vehicles ply the roads, most of them in a poor state. Only 260km of roads are in good condition. The high demand has led to congestion on the city roads, with motorists spending up to three hours to travel an average of 10km to get to the city."
Kampala's transport woes are made worse by its reliance on the 14-seater matatu taxis and the narrow city streets they fill.
The city has neither buses nor trains. According to Uganda's National Environment Management Authority's State of Environment Report 2014, the country loses 24,000 man-hours daily, costing the economy USh500m ($1.3m), because of problems with transport links.
Musisi says the city has been underfunded for several decades. "Kampala was like any other local government authority. There was no funding from the central government, yet the city is the heart of the country's life."
She says $1.55bn is needed in the next five years to restore some normality to the various sectors of the city's infrastructure. Unfortunately, she adds, the finance required is beyond the capacity of the govern- ment to provide, and external funding is critical. "The World Bank is financing the rehabilitation of 100km of roads this financial year and the government has set aside $150m to construct flyovers to decongest the city streets. Other funds are expected from the government of Japan, which is funding construction of some of the 28 major traffic junctions in the city," she says.
Over the years, the city has expanded to 189sq km from barely 80 in the 1960s. "The city area is expanding by the day as more districts are being swallowed up by the expanding city. The rising population is generat- ing mountains of garbage, up to 50,000 tonnes daily," Musisi says.
Only 33,500 tonnes of that garbage is collected and disposed of daily, leaving about 16,500 tonnes uncol- lected. It is common to find mountains of garbage rotting in the city, a breeding ground for vermin as well as a health hazard.
The growing population is straining the city's in- frastructure to the limit. Illegal settlements are mush- rooming and the construction of dwellings is mainly in the wetlands, blocking secondary and tertiary drainage channels. The Nakivubo channel, covering a surface area of 5.2km and a total catchment area of 40sq km, often bursts its banks when it rains.
"The number of people living in slums is rising by over 15% per annum. Up to 600,000 people, about a third of the night-time population, live in slums which lack basic human needs such as clean water, shelter and sanitation," Kaujju explains.
To make matters worse, slum dwellers dump in- soluble and non-decomposing waste indiscriminately, blocking the waterways. "The situation is made worse by the decision of the city authorities to allocate part of the wetlands for the construction of industrial, commercial and public buildings. The construction is blocking drainage channels in the Kyambogo-Banda area east of the city," says an official of the National Environment Management Authority.
To mitigate the city's current infrastructure woes, the authorities are launching an ambitious plan. Mu- sisi says the 2014/15 to 2018/19 Strategic Plan aims at rebuilding institutions, infrastructure and social structures to enable delivery of goods and services.
She says the plan has strategies for attracting invest- ment to supplement the city and central government budget. It is also rallying the support of development partners, particularly Japan and China, to raise the cash needed to rebuild and construct 80% of roads, bridges and other vital infrastructure in the next five years. Without the investment, Kampala's rapid growth will continue to outstrip the rate at which infrastruc- ture is being built. Kampala risks being classified as a jungle city for much longer still.
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