As the fastest-urbanizing region of the world, Africa’s cities are expanding due to both migration and national population growth, but the provision of jobs, services, and durable housing has not kept pace. Consequently, 65 percent of total employment in Africa is in the informal sector, providing services such as small-scale retail, repair, hairdressing, and tailoring within open-air markets or from home. Approximately 56 percent of urban residents—double the global average—live in slum housing, which is defined as lack of durable housing, unaffordable access to safe drink water and adequate sanitation, insecurity of tenure, and insufficient living space.

The informal city—viewed here as the pockets of a city dominated by slums and informal sector work—is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts for several reasons. First, high-intensity precipitation can flood houses and places of work, damaging assets and increasing exposure to water-borne diseases. Excess heat can contribute to the “urban heat island” effect whereby heat absorption by built-up surfaces can endanger the health of those working and living in poorly ventilated homes and markets. Third, increased drought can compromise water supply, worsening fire risks in markets and slums while also reducing hydropower resources and thus exacerbating electricity shortages, hurting informal businesses. Fourth, higher sea levels and tides will increase flooding in Africa’s low-elevation coastal zones where population growth will increase in the coming decade. Yet, national climate change action plans (NCCAPs) prepared by African governments tend to overlook the threats to communities living and working in informal settings.

In a recent chapter prepared for the Global Center on Adaptation’s State and Trends in Adaptation Report 2022, we examine these challenges for informal communities in more detail by focusing on Accra, Ghana. We draw on interviews with policymakers and local politicians as well as focus group discussions with market traders, neighborhood associations, and traditional authorities to develop a framework about how climate change and informality intersect in African cities and to map out the tensions between formal governance structures and the realities of the informal city that obstruct inclusive adaptation.

Read the full article about climate change and African cities by Louise Fox and Danielle Resnick at Brookings.