Harnessing Tanzania’s Explosive Urbanization Requires Central Support for Local Goals

Dar es Salaam, the capitol of Tanzania, is fast on its way to becoming a megacity with a population projected to more than double by 2030. Photo by Hendri Lombard/World Bank

Tanzania is undergoing a remarkable transformation. Its urban population is projected to grow from less than 15 million people in 2012 to more than 60 million people by mid-century.

Most of this growth will take place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s cultural and economic hub. It’s fast on its way to becoming a megacity with a population projected to more than double from 4.4 million in 2012 to 10.8 million in 2030. Still, other cities like Mwanza and Dodoma are also projected to see major increases in population in the years ahead.

So far, this urban growth has been largely informal and unmanaged. In most cases, cities have evolved without clear spatial planning or vision, leading to insufficient infrastructure to meet basic needs, let alone keep pace with rapid growth.

This is made worse by climate change. Increases in temperature, unpredictable rainfall and intense droughts have already led to food shortages, water scarcity, flooding and power outages in many cities. Low-income and other marginalized urban residents are particularly vulnerable to these impacts.

A new report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions, written by experts from the African Centre for Cities, International Institute for Environment and Development, Economic and Social Research Foundation, and Overseas Development Institute, offers some recommendations, noting that managing this transition will require new ways to link national resources and expertise with local priorities.

Catching Up to Get Ahead

Better Urban Growth in Tanzania” highlights the catalytic role that national government can play in coordinating and aligning the activities of the many stakeholders working in cities – local governments, the private sector and civil society – with the aim of improving resilience, productivity and wellbeing for all.

Tanzania needs to raise significant resources to catch up with current needs and keep pace with those of future residents. More than 70 percent of Dar es Salaam’s population already lives in unplanned settlements without adequate housing, clean drinking water or safe sanitation. Only a quarter of Tanzania’s urban population in total have water connected to their homes.

One of the benefits of denser urban areas is that investments in core infrastructure, such as power and sanitation, can reach many more people for comparatively lower costs than in rural areas. Urban population growth can also create agglomeration economies, whereby the presence of larger markets and more workers enables greater specialization. This increases the productivity of industry and services. More compact and connected cities can enable people to reach jobs and markets more easily, laying the foundations for long-term economic growth.

The report recognizes the importance of spatial planning, but acknowledges how difficult this can be in cities like Dar es Salaam, where most of the population live in informal settlements. It recommends using land titling and infrastructure investments to reinforce good land use planning. For example, mass transit infrastructure should effectively connect housing with services and employment.

Of course, all of these programs cost money. The report offers a menu of financing options that central governments can use to fund core urban infrastructure. It also advocates for the central government to establish an enabling regulatory environment so that businesses feel confident investing in the country and cities are legally permitted to collect and manage local revenue.

Long-Term Planning From a National Perspective

Now is the time to think long term and get Tanzania’s urban development right. The policy and investment decisions made today will determine the success of its cities for decades to come.

The Coalition for Urban Transitions, hosted by WRI as an initiative of the New Climate Economy project, provides targeted support to national-level policymakers, who often hold different tools than municipal governments, to help shape towns and cities. It aims to provide a trusted, independent and objective basis for thinking about urban transitions at a national level.

Rapid urban population growth offers a window of opportunity to reduce poverty, create jobs and adapt to climate change. Well-planned cities are key to sustaining long-term economic growth and reducing environmental impacts. Yet Tanzania’s cities cannot do this alone; their success will ultimately depend on the ambition and support of central government too.

Download “Better Urban Growth in Tanzania” from NewClimateEconomy.report.

Joel Jaeger is the Communications Specialist for the New Climate Economy project, hosted by WRI.

Rachel Spiegel is an intern for the New Climate Economy project, hosted by WRI, supporting the engagement and communications teams. 

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