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Cities and Children: the challenge of urbanisation in Tanzania

United Nations Children’s Fund, (U.) (2012) Cities and Children: the challenge of urbanisation in Tanzania. Technical Report. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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Cities are becoming home to a growing proportion of Africa’s children. In Tanzania, already one in four lives in an urban centre – and
many more will in coming years. Within the short span of a generation, more than one-third of Tanzania’s children will be raised in a city
or town. Growing up urban can offer these children the chance for a brighter future, or the grim conditions in which so many are now
living in the sprawling cities of the continent.

Increasingly urban
Tanzania is more urbanised than it perceives itself to be. Urban Tanzanians feel emotionally rooted in their villages of origin, rather than
in the cities and towns where they live. Despite this perception, conditions that are typical of urban areas are more widespread across
Tanzania than official figures disclose. Extensive, heavily populated areas are often counted as ‘rural’ simply because they are not
officially classified as ‘urban’. Nestled in one of the world’s fastest urbanising region, Tanzania itself is urbanising fast. Nearly half of its
urban population is already, and will continue to be, made up of children younger than 18 years.
As urbanisation rapidly transforms Tanzania’s physical, social and economic landscape, attention must be paid to the conditions in
which new generations of Tanzanian children will be raised. Far too many are living in overcrowded informal settlements that lack
clean water and adequate sanitation. They play in heaps of garbage littered with dangerous and even toxic materials. Their families
cannot afford quality food, schools or health care; their health and well-being are constantly at risk from mosquitos and other pests that
thrive in unsanitary environments – as well as human predators that prey on those least able to defend themselves, exposing children
to violence, abuse and sexual assault that increase their risk of HIV infection. Tanzania’s urban children today are more often exposed
to the ugly underbelly of city life than to its potential advantages. Fulfilling the rights and aspirations of these children will be a major
challenge; careful and timely preparation is needed to address it adequately.

Urban advantage
The challenges posed by urban growth continue to receive scant attention from policy makers, due partly to widespread belief in
an ‘urban advantage’ – the idea that compared to rural residents, city dwellers are invariably better off. It is true that cities enjoy an
edge: high concentration of people, proximity and economies of scale permit cities to become engines of growth. Facilities, services,
infrastructure and amenities are more readily available in urban than rural settings. Urban centres offer more avenues for jobs and
education, and can provide children with greater opportunities for survival, growth and development. Economic resources and political
visibility enhance the scope for investments in critical services and infrastructure that can make service provision less costly and more
widely available than in Tanzania’s vast and sparsely populated hinterland. Urban areas are also hubs of technological innovation and
social interaction. It is no wonder that children and young people are often attracted to cities, where they can draw from resources that
are denied to their rural peers.

City promises… and realities
But for many urban children, the notion of an unqualified ‘urban advantage’ simply does not hold true. Life in the sprawling, unplanned
informal settlements of most Tanzanian cities does not match the promise that urban life is supposed to fulfil. The misconception
according to which urban dwellers must invariably be better off than rural people stems partly from the tendency to equate availability
of services with access to them. But in most cities adequate facilities and quality services are distributed unequally across the urban
space, concentrated in affluent areas that tend to attract the most qualified teachers, health workers and other service providers.
Meanwhile, the less well-endowed schools and health facilities are located in the poorer parts of a city – the unplanned settlements
where up to 80 per cent of urban residents live, most of whom cannot afford to pay fees and other costs for services. The truth is that
the ‘urban advantage’ is not shared by all city dwellers.
Only a limited few can afford services and amenities that would be unthinkable in a rural setting; the majority not only experience levels
of deprivation not unlike those affecting rural children, but a host of social, physical and environmental ills that are specific to an urban
context – contaminated water and polluted air, traffic congestion and noise, cramped living conditions in substandard shelters built
along riverbanks, on steep slopes or dumping grounds, untreated waste washing away into waterways, lack of safe places for children
to gather and play, among other troubling signs of urban malaise.

Narrowing gaps
Official statistics that compare overall conditions in rural and urban areas tend to mask the actual living conditions of poor urban
dwellers. Even so, they indicate that the vaunted urban edge is eroding with the passage of time. For many dimensions of child wellbeing,
Tanzania’s rural areas are catching up with cities, where the provision of social services and infrastructure has not kept pace
with the growing demand generated by rapid urban growth. For instance: Availability of basic services, expected to be higher in urban centres than remote rural areas, has been declining. Consequently, thetraditional performance gap across the rural/urban divide has narrowed for many indicators in education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation. In some cases rural areas now outperform urban centres.
As urban performance stagnates and even declines, it is likely that poor, under-serviced communities are being hit hardest. Although
aggregate figures for urban and rural areas prevent detailed analysis of intra-urban disparities, evidence from low-income urban
communities – on access to basic services and on health and education outcomes – suggests that poor urban children may often
be faring worse than rural peers.

Hidden poverty
Despite these trends, national policy and programme frameworks continue to mostly target rural poverty, perceived as the nation’s core
development challenge. Urban poverty, growing alongside urban affluence, remains mainly unnoticed and, therefore, unaddressed.
By depicting rural and urban averages that obscure the disparities so prevalent in cities and towns, official statistics largely miss out
on the conditions of the urban poor and their children. Moreover, standard measures of poverty typically underestimate its true extent
in urban settings, where families have to incur high costs to afford not only food, but also housing, schooling, health, transport and
other necessities. In a monetised urban economy, all necessities have to be purchased with cash, a rare commodity when jobs are
irregular and poorly paid. Hidden in official estimates and tucked away in peripheral urban fringes, poor children thus run the risk of
remaining invisible in development policy and investments. Gathering and analysing sub-municipal data must be a priority for planners,
service providers and communities; local-area data can help to reveal the actual conditions in which poor children live, as well as the
inequalities that exist side by side within the confines of a city.

An urban future
Urban growth is projected to continue in coming decades, and could even accelerate. If the current predicament facing Tanzania’s
urban centres is not addressed now, conditions will likely deteriorate. As density increases and unplanned settlements become more
congested, investments in facilities, services and infrastructure are likely to become costlier, both financially and socially. Unless it is
leveraged properly, the potential advantage that cities can offer could turn instead into a disadvantage. Already Dar es Salaam has one
of the highest proportions of urban residents living in unplanned settlements in all of sub-Saharan Africa. If present trends continue
unabated, Tanzania could then find itself facing a daunting scenario: not only are today’s urban children exposed to one of the most
hazardous environments imaginable, but climate change is poised to further increase their vulnerability. Clearly the future need not
pose a threat. It is ultimately up to the current generation of Tanzanians to ensure that their children will get the best, while avoiding the
worst that cities have to offer.

Urban governance
Urban centres must seek ways to exploit their edge – or watch it disappear. The difference will lie in how access to resources is
managed in Tanzania’s towns and cities. A competent, accountable and equitable system of local governance can make that difference.
Good local governance can help overcome the disparities that bar access by the urban poor to resources, services and infrastructure:
secure land tenure and decent housing, safe water and sanitation, quality education, adequate health care and nutrition, affordable
transport. Good local governance can make the difference between a city friendly to children and one that is indifferent to their needs
and rights. Municipal governments have the advantage of being close to their constituents; they could make the most of this situation
by forming alliances with civil society groups, the media, private sector, community organisations and others, with the aim of improving
the conditions in which poor urban families live. Accountable local authorities, proactive communities and children are key actors in a
governance process seeking to create an urban environment fit for children.

Citizenship and participation
Children and adolescents have a right to express their opinions in both defining their problems and providing solutions. This is a right
enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Today, Tanzania’s children and adolescents already take part in local governance
processes. Some are active in Children’s Municipal Councils, School Barazas and other grassroots institutions. But the majority are
rarely consulted – at home, at school or in their communities. Listening to children’s voices can inform local decision-makers about the
world in which they live and how they see it, thereby offering a more nuanced understanding of “childhood” and how specific social,
cultural and economic realities condition children’s lives. Their scale and proximity makes cities and communities the most relevant
place for genuine participation by children.

Child-friendly cities
It is ultimately in Tanzania’s local communities that children’s rights will be realised and global development goals will be met – in the
family, the school, the ward, and the city. Cities offer an ideal platform for convergence of development interventions that normally
target children independently, in a fragmented manner. Instead, they need to be delivered holistically, which is easier at the level where
children live. Children’s horizon is local. If development goals and children’s rights are not implemented locally, they are likely to remain
abstract declarations of intent, without practical translation.
Creating an environment friendly to children in every town and city of Tanzania is not only a laudable goal, but a sensible choice for
municipal authorities around the country. Local authorities, communities, families and children can and must work together to transform
today’s often hostile urban settings into child-friendly cities – as cities friendly to children are ones that are friendly to all.

Item Type: Report (Technical Report)
Keywords: Cities, Street Children, Urbanization, Tanzania, Urban migration
Subjects: Demography > Population studies
Demography > Migration
Equity, gender, social determinants
Divisions: Other
Depositing User: Mr Joseph Madata
Date Deposited: 22 Aug 2012 14:37
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2012 15:35

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