Over the past decade, Africa has been experiencing tremendous economic dynamism and growth: seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries are in Africa; the continent’s economic output has more than tripled; and average economic growth is expected to be 4.8 percent in 2013.
Transport is a core sector for Africa’s economic development. Growth-inducing, it enables goods to move across regions and within countries. It provides farmers with access to markets and the means to export their products and to fulfill demand in other parts of the continent as well as in Europe and Asia. Transport also enables people to go where jobs and services are.
Choices made today about transport systems and the provision of infrastructure will frame development patterns for the next thirty years and play a defining role in ending poverty. So how transport develops within cities and across the continent is critical for the kind of development that Africa generates and the degree of economic growth it achieves.
The Africa Transport Policy Program (SSATP) is an international multi-partner initiative which seeks to facilitate development of transport policies and support their implementation across the continent.
It is well known that transport plays a pivotal role in promoting enduring economic development and accelerating the fight against poverty. However, as Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region, has said, a key challenge is to foster transport policies that also address economic sustainability, environmental protection, and social equity.
As part of our mandate and in light of the critical role that transport plays in economic development, the SSATP is mounting a new effort to meet with stakeholders across Africa to discuss the concept of sustainable transport, identify innovative solutions, and position transport in the greater sustainability agenda.
The continent has a unique opportunity to create environmentally sustainable transport networks as part of its development strategy. In taking the next step forward, SSATP is planning to host in 2014 an Environmentally Sustainable Transport Forum for Africa (EST-Africa). Similar annual forums already exist in Asia, since 2004, and in Latin America, since 2011.
EST-Africa will provide an opportunity for regional cooperation and the exchange of best practices. The goal is to increase understanding of the benefits of building sustainable, rather than carbon-hungry, transport networks. EST-Africa will help African governments achieve solid economic growth, increase their capacity to develop sustainable transport systems, and build greater climate resilience.
Rapid economic development of the kind that is taking place in Africa generates significant pressure on mobility, environment and society. Although the majority of people in Africa currently live in rural areas, Africa is the world’s fastest urbanizing continent. More and more young Africans are seeking jobs in cities.
Many African cities are now growing without a proper urban transport development plan. The result is a sprawl of urban slums, a massive influx of imported cars on a limited and weak infrastructure, increased congestion, widespread pollution, high rates of car accidents and fatalities, and less road safety for pedestrians.
The World Bank supported the development of the Lagos Bus Rapid Transit system,
the first of its kind in Africa
Making transport sustainable is critical to developing a “green economy,” one that supports economic development and does not harm the environment. . This is particularly relevant for Africa as the continent can learn about successful sustainable transport policies and practices developed in Asia and Latin America and avoid running into some common pitfalls.
My colleague Roger Gorham is the SSATP Task Leader for the 2014 EST-Africa. This first meeting will focus on the challenges facing sustainable development of the transport sector so that it can meet long-term development goals.
In a recent meeting hosted by SSATP during the UNEP Governing Council in Nairobi this past February, African environment ministers reiterated the need to increase awareness that both development and the environment are critical for continued economic growth in Africa and that transport plays a key role in both.