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Green infrastructure to improve lives of African informal settlements – expert

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A slum house

A member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort, and lecturer with Federal University of Technology, Akure, Dr. Olumuyiwa Bayode Adegun has stressed the need to ensure urban sustainability by embracing green infrastructure.

He stressed that green infrastructure can improve the lives of slum dwellers in African cities.

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According to him, slums and informal settlements in African cities are connected to green spaces and natural ecosystems serving as green infrastructure. He said by utilising this infrastructure, people have the potential to improve the quality of life as well as the environment, harnessing the benefits for people’s livelihoods, food security, and social-cultural appropriation.

Speaking on the term green infrastructure, the expert noted that Charles Little first introduced it in the book Greenways for America, using it to describe the networked assemblage of natural landforms and green open spaces that create alternatives to municipal or regional infrastructure.

He, however, pointed out that the notion that environmentally sustainable urbanisation cannot be achieved without considering green infrastructure still does not seem to be entrenched in developing countries, particularly in the low-income informal parts of cities that are often to referred to as slums.

“This is of course not the fault of those living in those informal settlements, they are victims of inequalities.

” It is because many people don’t realise that there is actually a connection between informal settlements and green infrastructure. The connection occurs in three main ways, and location in ecologically-significant, environmentally-sensitive and biodiversity-rich places within cities is the first. Across Africa, informal settlements and slums are generally established through processes that take advantage of unutilised land. For example, Makoko in Lagos sits in a coastal area, where freshwater biodiversity is notable. Such land, with the ecological significance, is also normally unsuitable for residential development due to its location being near streams, on low lying river banks, within wetlands or because it serves as buffer strips.

“The second connection is agricultural cultivation within low-income areas. Residents of informal settlements undertake various forms of agricultural cultivations, whether that’s through planting in containers or in yards, gardens and open spaces. Irrespective of size and form, these cultivations make up part of the green infrastructure.

“The last connection is an ecological approach to infrastructure. In informal settlements, infrastructural needs are met through natural or semi-natural systems. A roof or domestic garden is an example of ecological infrastructure at the household level.”

Adegun submitted that informal settlements and green infrastructure are linked, stressing that these connections actually have lots of benefits that if utilised will improve the lives of those living in informal dwellings.

He added that green infrastructure provides provisions, such as food and water, to those living in slums and informal settlements. “These seem like basic needs, but people do not have access to municipal infrastructure, therefore rely on freshwater sources such as streams, wetlands, and hand-dug shallow wells. These ground surfaces are often poor quality but residents use them for cooking, laundry, sanitary purposes, and irrigation because they are readily available. Food, including edible medicinal plants, is another provision as a result of green infrastructure. The role of agricultural cultivation in food supply and food security is very important in low-income informal settlements as is not only for those within the settlement to eat but as a source of income.

“People living in informal settlements also benefit from green infrastructure through services that regulate the environment. The plants and trees contribute to decrease in local air temperature, by 3 to 5 degrees in some cases in the summer, and also improves the air quality through reduction of pollutants in the neighbourhood. Vertical gardens are another example of this, my research found that an experimental green wall in a Lagos settlement led to a 0.5 degree decrease in the temperature.

“Vertical gardens are actually fantastic examples of green infrastructure. My research focused on vertical gardens because in many settlements soil conditions are not always ideal for a number of reasons, so certain plants can’t thrive. Another reason is the lack of land available, which motivated the idea of growing vertically, improving the food production and food security for individuals living in the settlements is paramount and crucial for climate adaption and resilience.

“We developed these vertical farms, in settlements in Lagos in Nigeria, and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, using pipes similar to what you would use for plumbing. You place soil in them and add them to the wall, and from this you are able to grow vegetables, and plants which will provide individuals with food, but also the opportunity to earn money by selling them,” he said.

The expert stated that green infrastructure also provides socio-cultural benefits. According to him, they are aesthetically pleasing, but also provide opportunities for recreational activities, social interaction, inspirational enrichment and cultural expression. “For instance, waterbodies and natural areas connected to settlements serve as object of worship and location for religious/cultural ceremonies. Natural areas also offer opportunities for cognitive development. Green spaces serve as an educationally productive space for children’s cognitive development through for example, demonstration gardens and educational paths.”

Adegun said his research has found that green infrastructure is an extremely important way to improve the lives of those living in informal settlements and he hoped that he could continue to find more ways to use the ecosystem around them to better lives while enhancing adaptation to climate change.

“I am now a part of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and British Council’s the Climate Connection Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort, so I believe this will give me the support and resources to further my research and make a difference. So far, I have already been given the opportunity to interact with researchers from all over the Commonwealth, who focus on different research interests which means that they have unique and different perspectives to what I would have, which is very helpful and I continue to learn from them,” he said.


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