Gambia and the pattern of urbanisation without development


By Abdoukarim Sanneh,
London, United Kingdom

Sustainable development advocates for a balance between socio-economic development and the environment in the pursuit of human advancement. The rapid urbanisation from Banjul, Kanifing Municipality and Brikama Local Government Administrative areas is causing social and economic strains, some of which manifest themselves in current environmental problems. Environmental problem for the knowledge of the readership is either an inadequate supply of resources essential to human health of our urban population such as fresh drinking water or the presence of pathogens or toxic substances in the urban environment which can damage health or physical resources such as land, groundwater, marine resources etc.

Sustainability has emerged after the Earth Summit in 1992 as one of the main concepts by which development and human welfare are defined and evaluated. According the Bruntland Commission or World Commission on Environment and Development report 1987 titled our common future stated that sustainability, as an innovative concept, requires that development planners and policy makers pursue the betterment of human welfare in consistent with sustainable use of environment. The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 produced four convention such as Agenda for sustainable development known as Agenda 21, Convention on biological diversity, Framework Convention on climate change and convention to combat desertification. Agenda 21 is a mechanism for translating the goals and objectives of sustainable into concrete policies and action at the local level through local agenda 21. In many part of the World Local Government Administrations have develop sustainable development actions and objectives of their local environmental development challenges through what is called Local Agenda 21. The basic objective of which is to ensure equitable distribution of the benefit of economic growth among a broader segment of the population, and at the same time maintaining the integrity of the environment.


Sustainable development advocates for increased human interactions in the areas of production, trade and commerce, and socio-cultural adaptations. In essence, development anthropologist stated that most of the activities of production and consumption and socio-cultural exchanges take place in cities and urban settings and it this phenomenon, which they argued, continues to draw many of the World’s population into cities. Urbanisation present major socio-economic challenges to many West African Countries such as Gambia, Senegal and others. Beyond the 1992 International Labour Organisation and Gambia Government poverty survey, there is no comparative data about urban and rural poverty in the Gambia. United Nation Centre for Human Settlement (Habitat) in its 2001 indicated that quality of life which is one of sustainable development indicators in some urban areas in developing countries is even worse than in rural areas due to high rates of poverty among pockets of the urban population.

In the Gambia, lack of urban spatial development planning and poor economic performance has hindered the ability of government to provide adequate infrastructure and services to meet the growing demands of the rapidly increasing urban population. During my visits in Gambia after more than two decades away, what I can observed is that a country which used to be predominantly rural, that scenario has taken a swift turn and with major shift in urbanisation especially in Greater Banjul and Kombo areas because of factors such as natural increase in the population and rural-urban migration. With inadequate provision of infrastructure and services to meet the growing urban populations is resulting to inefficient spatial development in these three local government administrative areas. In both Banjul City Council, Kanifing Municipal Council, and Brikama Area council, the spatial development problems with environment and health implication include; crowded and cramped living conditions, the dangerous and unhealthy sites of some neighbourhoods such as Bakoteh dump sites, the irregular or no collection of household garbage, pollution and exposure to toxic and hazardous waste in water and in the air and noise. The majority of urban population in Greater Banjul and Kombo live in settlements with no provision of drainage and sewage system, poor sanitation, no schedule refuse or garbage collection and most of people use pit toilet.

The Local Government Authorities seemingly lack the local environment and developmentalist planning agenda, vision and practical action about how to save urban environment and its built infrastructure from further dereliction. There should be a strong link between the Local Government Authorities and the country’s Environment Agency for urban environmental development challenges. It about time Gambia’s Local Government Authorities start developing environment management units within their local government administration to facilitate the development to address local environmental problems such as waste collection, noise pollution, traffic congestion and air pollution, parks management and cemeteries management, local spatial land use classification and planning etc. With increasing urbanisation, our urban environmental resources are degrading in both quality and quantity and this has an impact on quality of life and wellbeing of the inhabitants. One of the major urban environmental problems in Urban Gambia is lack and poor drainage system. Gambia need modern sewage treatment facilities for household wastewater. There is a need for capital investment for a modern waste and sewage water treatment facilities. With lack of strong urban governance, public-private partnership can be become more importance set of priorities in tackling environmental threats to human health because of poor sewage treatment. We have to act now because the majority of next generation will be living in our urban areas and will judge us by asking question about the state of their urban environment.