Updated: Jun 27
As a young girl growing up in the dust, I heard a few stories about life abroad and its glories and I yearned so much to see and experience them for myself. I heard stories about the different seasons, the variety of foods, catching the train, huge library resources and many others. Well, after so many years of waiting, this dream finally became a reality.
Travelling abroad indeed opened my eyes to so many other perspectives of life and one that really stood out to me is the intentional care and attention given to trees and green spaces in the various cities overseas. In fact, having access to green infrastructure in our cities helps us reconnect with nature and even enhances our physical and mental health. These natural spaces make cities alive and bless communities with a serene and beautiful environment.
Although there is a significant amount of migration from rural to urban areas, as indicated by UN DESA, countries like Canada, America, Australia, Spain, as well as Singapore have been able to set aside funds and also established tree ordinances and policies to preserve and maintain the urban forest. These implementation strategies are useful in mitigating climate change by regulating the microclimate, decreasing the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions as well as reducing stormwater runoff.
However, this is quite different in Africa. Population explosion occurs as people move to the cities in search of better opportunities and amenities, which increases the competition for resources. Green spaces and urban trees are removed to make room for the development of residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. Informal settlements without even the most basic hygiene amenities spring up to support the financially challenged individual. In fact, it appears hard to advance the cause of green infrastructure across Africa as many countries experience challenges including hunger and malnutrition, poverty, poor health and unclean water, a high unemployment rate, energy crisis, economic instability, and access to high-quality education.
Again, rapid urbanisation results in deforestation, loss of biodiversity, water pollution, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, drought, urban heat island and stress levels in humans. In the event of severe floods that cause loss of lives and damage to properties such as farmlands, schools, and hospitals, government funds are not even sufficient to provide amenities to support families and communities that end up as victims of such disasters.
The good news is that the very green infrastructure we are destroying can be leveraged to create Nature-Based Solutions (NBS). Planting the right tree at the right place, and incorporating the 3-30-300 rule by Prof Cecil Konijnendijk can drastically reduce the impact of climate change in our cities. Additionally, African leaders can gradually implement the New Urban Agenda and EO toolkit based on SDG 11 (making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) which establishes links between sustainable urbanisation and job creation, livelihood opportunities and better quality of lives. Professionals in the built environment, such as architects, civil engineers, town planners, and surveyors, must become aware of the advantages of urban forests (eg: clean air and water, carbon sequestration, stormwater run-off and mental well-being) in order to include green infrastructure in their project designs. Additionally, urban forestry can be included into the educational system as a course to teach the next generation about its importance and how to efficiently manage these resources. Giving children this knowledge will also fuel the virtue of kindness, patience and perseverance.
As more African nations adopt urban forestry practices, new employment possibilities will emerge, including those as a lecturer, city forester, urban forestry consultant, park manager, urban forestry coordinator, plant health technician, utility arborist, tree warden, and sales arborist. Access to jobs will increase the standard of living and general well-being of an individual, lower depression and anxiety levels, guarantee that children especially eat a well balanced diet, make countries more attractive for foreign investment and overall boost the economy of a nation.
I urge NGOs, parents, teachers, children, the youth, chiefs, political leaders, governors, health professionals, tree enthusiasts, donor groups and all individuals to unite in supporting the planting and maintenance of urban forests. Together, we can contribute to Africa’s transformation into a continent that is better prepared to withstand climate challenges and safeguard its sustainability.
As Nelson Mandela once said “It always seems impossible until it is done”. As we commemorate African Union (AU) Day today, may we hold these words in our hearts and may we see the possibilities of rising to create a Green Africa!
About the Author
Abena Boatemaa Asare-Ansah is a young enthusiastic woman from Ghana fascinated by the use of simple geometrical constructs like points, lines, and polygons to represent and quantify intricate landscape features on the surface of the Earth. As a naturally curious researcher, she is passionate about using geospatial technology to manage natural resources, including food security, and agriculture, urban forestry, and land use and land cover.
Réseau's goal is to connect people with purpose and foster a more inclusive global dialogue.