Save The Cities, Save The Future

Rauf Aregbesola


Speech by the Governor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, as the Guest of Honour at the 2011 World Habitat Day held at the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, Osogbo, on Monday October 3, 2011.

I must thank the organisers for the privilege of being the Guest of Honour at today’s event. The United Nations General Assembly in 1986 through Resolution 40/202 designated every first Monday of October to be World Habitat Day and has been held annually since then. This year, it falls on October 3, and for which we are gathered here today.

The theme of this year’s World Habitat Day is ‘Cities and Climate Change’ and the global celebration is being hosted by the government of Mexico. We are however observing this year’s edition in our little corner of the world, just like other states of the federation and indeed all over the world.

Human habitation has evolved with cities. From caves and tree tops, man’s dwelling place has become sophisticated and at a time, it was being discussed how man can live in outer space and other planets. Yet, shelter is still a basic problem of man, especially in cities and urban centres.

Increasingly, development agencies are paying greater attention to cities, seeing it is the future of mankind. Greater human population live in cities where, for reason of industrialisation, the jobs are. It is also in the cities that we have the markets for goods and services that drive economic activities. It is in the cities that we have the most demand for shelter, clothing, food and municipal services like electricity, water, waste disposal and security.

This is why the themes of the World Habitat Day in the past 15 years have been on cities. Ironically, cities are more vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change. This is another issue that has been of global concern. There are two problems here. Climate change is the result of, one, natural processes in the earth such as variations in solar radiation, deviations in the Earth’s orbit, mountain-building and continental drift, and or, secondly, the activities of man that add to the greenhouse gas concentration.

There is nothing we can do about natural factors other than to pray. However, of serious concern are the activities of man that add to the carbon dioxide concentration on the earth surface due to emissions from fossil fuel burning, and aerosols, a propellant gas in most insecticide cans. Land use, ozone depletion, animal agriculture and deforestation are other man made factors that affect climate.

Experts have warned that the current rate of increase in the global mean temperature is unsustainable. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. According to the body, the impact of this in Africa is scary. By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in the continent are projected to be exposed to increased water stress; yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent in some regions by 2020; agricultural production, including access to food, may be severely compromised.

But there are other consequences of global warming precipitated in other places that will have effect on us. With the melting of the ice caps leading to rise in ocean levels and increased tidal waves, our coastal cities are already under the threat of being submerged. In the last 100 years alone, several kilometres of the Lagos coast have been taken over by water and it is not abating. Ocean surges now regularly threaten the Ahmadu Bello Way in Victoria Island in Lagos, propelling fears that the entire Victoria Island might soon be submerged.

There are other pieces of evidence of climate change around us. For some years now, the ‘August break’ is no longer apparent and we now have rainfall in September and October that looks like June and July. Again, many of us who are old enough will remember that tiny pellets of ice block used to come with rainfall in the past which we call Yinyin. I cannot remember the last time I saw Yinyin again, except the ice cubes in my refrigerator.

The effect of climate change on cities has been staggering. When there is alteration in the pattern of rainfall, farmers may miscalculate the planting period with dire consequences of food shortage. Since farmers take to the cities what is left of their own subsistence, cities dwellers are at the grave risk of hunger. An increase in temperature put cities with their high density population at graver risk of heat waves and upper respiratory tract infection. Natural disasters like tsunamis and flooding will devastate cities more than any dwelling formation.

By having trees and grasses around us, we offset the carbon dioxide emitted my man. Studies have shown that one of the ugly fallouts of urbanisation is the deoxygenated air of cities and urban centres. Many of the places designated as green areas have been taken over by commercial and other anthropogenic activities. We cannot estimate the economic and health cost of this.

We can see that that the effects of urbanization and climate change are converging in dangerous ways. The results of this convergence threaten to have unprecedented negative impacts on the quality of life, and economic and social stability. The good news, according to UNHABITAT, however, is that urbanization will also offer many opportunities to develop cohesive mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with climate change. The populations, enterprises and authorities of urban centres will be fundamental players in developing these strategies.

But this is a clarion call to all to be more sensitive to this dangerous convergence and in our little way mitigate the consequences. We can begin this with the consciousness of our per capital carbon emission and the way we treat the environment.

For us, the state of our cities has been of concern since my inauguration. Yoruba people are urban dwellers. Most of the cities in Osun State that will qualify as urban centres are also historical places. Many of them have existed for more than 500 years. The architectures observable in some places are Gothic while others are 18th Century Brazilian. Some were brought in by colonial authorities while others were imported by returnee slaves. From the early to the mid 20th Century, our fathers invested the wealth realised from cash crop farming and trading in buildings.

Regrettably, with the disappearance of cocoa wealth also crept in dilapidation on the buildings. A lot of them have been falling down.

We have therefore embarked upon urban renewal. A committee of seasoned academics and competent professionals is already working assiduously to develop a modern urban outlook for our numerous towns and cities. Through the Osun Clean (O’Clean), we are also working towards a clean and healthy environment.
We have committed huge sums to the dredging and channelization of the rivers and streams in the state that often cause flooding. These are the ones in Osogbo, Ile-Ife, Ilesa, Ikirun, Odeomu, Iwo and Iragbiji, among others. We are already seeing results; in spite of heavier rain in our region this year, no flooding was recorded in Osogbo and certainly no loss of lives and property.

Our concern for cities also impelled us to direct that work should commence on the Ede Waterworks to increase its capacity from the present 20 per cent of its installed capacity which has been the ultimate capacity in the last 20 years   to 50 per cent. This will be completed by the end of December this year. It would boost the provision of portable water to the 20 Local Governments the Waterworks serves. By January 2012, the second phase of the rehabilitation work will commence which will bring the waterworks to full capacity.

The message to all is that the city is the future and we must all work to save it from the ravages of climate change and the ugly consequences of urbanisation in order for us to have a safe, healthy and conducive habitation.

I wish you all a happy World Habitat Day.

I thank you for your attention.

Osun a dara o.