Urban Africa Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK)

Urban Africa Risk Knowledge was a three-year international research and capacity building programme on risk reduction in sub-Saharan African cities.

Jan 2015 - Aug 2018
David Satterthwaite

Senior associate, Human Settlements

Mark Pelling ([email protected]), principal investigator, Urban ARK; professor of geography, Kings College London

Building transformative urban resilience for all
A programme of work understanding the nature of risk for people living in urban centres of the global South, in order to support community, city, national and global efforts to build resilience
Niamey, the capital of Niger, is growing rapidly. Urban ARK is exploring the varied vulnerabilities of boys and girls from conflict-displaced and host communities (Photo: Jean Rebiffé, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Niamey, the capital of Niger, is growing rapidly. Urban ARK is exploring the varied vulnerabilities of boys and girls from conflict-displaced and host communities (Photo: Jean Rebiffé, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Urban Africa Risk Knowledge was a three-year international research and capacity building programme on risk reduction in sub-Saharan African cities.

The partnership involved 12 policy and academic institutions, led by Kings College London, which sought to open up an applied research and policy agenda for identifying risks in urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa.

This included understanding how urbanisation processes contribute to human vulnerability and exposure to a wide spectrum of hazards. It placed particular emphasis on the challenges faced by low-income, informal and illegal settlements, and how the nature and scale of these risks evolved in the context of urban growth and alteration, poverty and climate change.

An essential component of Urban ARK was building a community of researchers and practitioners capable of recognising and assessing risk accumulation and reduction dynamics.

Programme focus

The programme primarily focused on addressing three key challenges that hindered the integration of risk reduction into urban development:

  1. A lack of basic data: inadequate information on hazard and loss and on the social conditions that shape exposure and susceptibility to harm. Insufficient data on coping and adaptive capacities was also noted.
  2. A lack of systematic analysis: Urban ARK aimed to examine how urbanisation processes influence the social, geographical and temporal distribution of risk and loss in contemporary African towns and cities.
  3. Inadequate human capacity: a key challenge was the lack of capacity among those at risk, in civil society, government and the private sector, as well as a lack of coordinated effort to reduce risk.

Case studies

The project conducted in-depth research in four key cities: Ibadan in Nigeria, Karonga in Malawi, Nairobi in Kenya, and Niamey in Niger. These cities had distinct development and hazard profiles.

Additionally, Urban ARK was involved in Dakar in Senegal, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Freetown in Sierra Leone, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and Mombasa in Kenya.

Local research teams and stakeholders, including city planners, community groups and businesses, identified gaps in data, understanding and capacity.

Collaboration and resources

The Urban ARK programme encouraged collaboration and aimed to establish a community of practice with international research communities and related projects.

Resources, including policy briefs and papers, are free to download, with many materials available in both French and English.

While the project concluded in August 2018, its legacy continues to influence research and policy efforts in addressing urban risks in sub-Saharan Africa.

All resources previously available on the project website are listed below. You can also read more about the work programmes and locations.

The project made significant contributions to understanding and addressing urban risks in sub-Saharan African cities.

Key findings

  • Key challenges identified in integrating risk reduction into sustainable urban development, including donor priorities, fragmented city governance and data and monitoring gaps.
  • Emphasising the role of development policy and practice in risk accumulation and reduction
  • Highlighting the importance of multi-level governance arrangements, where civil society organisations collaborate with local and city authorities to address root causes, record event losses, and support household resilience.
  • Promoting a mixed methods approach for effective risk analysis. This ‘spectrum of methods’ approach bridges various perspectives and data sources and requires local relevance and close partnerships between researchers, local community organisations and municipal authorities.

Impact summary

  • Influenced urban planning and risk management in cities such as Nairobi and Ibadan, and Karonga.
  • Developed tools and data for upgrading informal settlements and urban planning. Tools and data developed through the project have been applied widely in collaboration with local governments.
  • Strengthened community organisations and public participation in urban development.
  • Built partnerships with local universities and created databases for decision-making.
  • Contributed to global discussions on urban resilience financing.

Urban ARK's work has had a tangible impact on urban risk reduction and resilience, offering valuable insights and tools for urban development, policy and community engagement.

Further detail can be found on the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Gateway to Research (GtR) website.


Additional resources

Levels and determinants of perceived health risk from solid wastes among communities living near to dumpsites in Kenya, Dickson A. Amugsi, Tilahun Nigatu Haregu, Blessing U. Mberu (2020), International journal of environmental health research

Biomedical waste management in Dakar, Senegal: legal framework, health and environment issues; policy and program options, Cheikh Dieng, Blessing Mberu, Zacharie Tsala Dimbuene, Cheikh Faye, Dickson Amugsi, Isabella Aboderin (2020), Cities & Health

Levels of household exposure to solid waste dumpsites and associated loss to health in urban Kenya and Senegal, Blessing Mberu, Michael Mutua, Caroline Kabaria, Dickson Amugsi, Kanyiva Muindi (2020), Cities & Health

Conflict and crime in municipal solid waste management: evidence from Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya, Kanyiva Muindi, Blessing Mberu, Isabella Aboderin, Dickson Amugsi (2020), Cities & Health

Resilience planning under information scarcity in fast growing African cities and towns: The CityRAP approach, Mathias Spaliviero, Mark Pelling, Luis Felipe Lopes, Chiara Tomaselli, Katharina Rochell, Marcia Guambe (2020), International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

Breaking Cycles of Risk Accumulation in African Cities, Mark Pelling (2019), Research publication, UN-Habitat

An agenda for ethics and justice in adaptation to climate change, Morten Fibieger Byskov, Keith Hyams, Poshendra Satyal, Isabelle Anguelovski, Lisa Benjamin, Sophie Blackburn (2019), Climate and Development

A spectrum of methods for a spectrum of risk: Generating evidence to understand and reduce urban risk in sub-Saharan Africa, David Dodman, Ibidun Adelekan, Donald Brown, Hayley Leck, Mtafu Manda, Blessing Mberu, Mark Pelling, Maria Rusca, David Satterthwaite, Faith Taylor (2019), Area (Oxford, England)

Revealing and Responding to Multiple Health Risks in Informal Settlements in Sub-Saharan African Cities, David Satterthwaite, Alice Sverdlik, Donald Brown (2019), Journal of urban health: bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine

Understanding the Role of Networks in Stimulating Adaptation Actions on the Ground: Examples from Two African Case Studies, Gina Ziervogel, Lorena Pasquini, Jessica Lee (2019), University Initiatives in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

Twitter: View tweets @Urban__ARK (2015-18)

News: Urban risk or resilience? Opportunities for improving informal settlements in urban Africa (March 2018)

Video: Urban risk or resilience? Improving informal settlements in urban Africa (February 2018)

Towards Risk-Sensitive and Transformative Urban Development in Sub Saharan Africa, Hayley Leck, Mark Pelling, Ibidun Adelekan, David Dodman, Hamadou Issaka, Cassidy Johnson, Mtafu Manda, Blessing Mberu, Ezebunwa Nwokocha, Emmanuel Osuteye, Soumana Boubacar (2018), Sustainability

Blog: Reducing risks in urban centres: think 'local, local, local', by David Satterthwaite (May 2017)

Blog: Fighting injustice helps in creating resilient urban spaces, by Gina Ziervogel and Lorena Pasquini (April 2017)

Blog: Addressing the needs of vulnerable groups in urban areas, by David Satterthwaite (April 2017)

Blog: Urban risks: where are the top five biggest blind spots?, by David Satterthwaite (April 2017)

The erosive effects of small disasters on household absorptive capacity in Niamey: a nested HEA approach, Soumana Boubacar, Mark Pelling, Alejandro Barcena, Raphaëlla Montandon (2017), Environment and Urbanization

Africa's urban risk and resilience, Arabella Fraser, Hayley Leck, Sue Parnell, Mark Pelling (2017), International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

Meeting the challenge of risk-sensitive and resilient urban development in sub-Saharan Africa: directions for future research and practice, Arabella Fraser, Hayley Leck, Susan Parnell, Mark Pelling, Donald Brown, Shuaib Lwasa (2017), International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

Discriminatory land use planning and flood risk management in Karonga Town, Malawi, James Gondwe, Mtafu Zeleza A Manda, Dominic Kamlomo (2017), International Journal of Human Sciences

An assessment of the evolution of Kenya's solid waste management policies and their implementation in Nairobi and Mombasa: analysis of policies and practices, Tilahun Nigatu Haregu, Abdhalah K Ziraba, Isabella Aboderin, Dickson Amugsi, Kanyiva Muindi, and Blessing Mberu (2017), Environment & Urbanization

Negotiated resilience, Leila M. Harris, Eric K. Chu, Gina Ziervogel (2017), Resilience

The earthquake/seismic risk, vulnerability and capacity profile for Karonga town English, James Kushe, Mtafu Manda, Hassan Mdala, Elijah Wanda (2017), African Journal of Environmental Science and Technology

Understanding the nature and scale of risks in Karonga, Malawi, Mtafu Manda, Elijah Wanda (2017), Environment & Urbanization

Developing risk or resilience? Effects of slum upgrading on the social contract and social cohesion in Kibera, Nairobi, Shreya Mitra, Joe Mulligan, Janpeter Schilling, Jamilla Harper, Janani Vivekananda, Lisa Krause (2017), Environment & Urbanization

The data gap: An analysis of data availability on disaster losses in sub-Saharan African cities, Emmanuel Osuteye, Cassidy Johnson, Donald Brown (2017), International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

Editorial: The full spectrum of risk in urban centres: changing perceptions, changing priorities, David Satterthwaite, Sheridan Bartlett (2017), Environment and Urbanization, Briefing 35

The impact of urban development on risk in sub-Saharan Africa's cities with a focus on small and intermediate urban centres, David Satterthwaite (2017), International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

Governing WASH for disaster risk reduction in Karonga Town, Malawi, Elija M.M. Wanda, Mtafu Manda, Dominic Kamlomo, James Kushe, Chrispin Mphande, Jean Kaunda, Orton Msiska (2017), International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

Using Citizen Science Approach to monitor water, sanitation and hygiene Related Risks in Karonga Town, Malawi, Elijah M.M. Wanda, Mtafu Manda, James Kushe, Orton Msiska, Chrispin Mphande, Dominic Kamlomo, Jean Kaunda (2017), African Journal of Environmental Science and Technology

Inserting rights and justice into urban resilience: a focus on everyday risk, Gina Ziervogel, Mark Pelling, Anton Cartwright, Eric Chu, Tanvi Deshpande, Leila Harris, Keith Hyams, Jean Kaunda, Benjamin Klaus, Kavya Michael, Lorena Pasquini, Robyn Pharoah, Lucy Rodina, Dianne Scott, Patricia Zweig (2017), Environment & Urbanization

Integration of Solid Waste Management Policies in Kenya: Analysis of coherence, gaps and overlaps, Tilahun Nigatu Haregu, Abdhalah K. Ziraba, Blessing Mberu (2016), African Population Studies

A review and framework for understanding the potential impact of poor solid waste management on health in developing countries, Abdhalah K. Ziraba, Tilahun Nigatu Haregu, Blessing Mberu (2016), Archives of public health

Disaster risk and its reduction: an agenda for urban Africa, Ibidun Adelekan, Cassidy Johnson, Mtafu Manda, David Matyas, Blessing Mberu, Susan Parnell, Mark Pelling, David Satterthwaite, and Janani Vivekananda (2015), International Development Planning Review

Blog: Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa: trends and implications for development and urban risk, by David Satterthwaite (December 2015), Urban Transformations

Disaster risk and its reduction: an agenda for urban Africa, Ibidun Adelekan, Cassidy Johnson, Mtafu Manda, David Matyas, Blessing Mberu, Susan Parnell, Mark Pelling, David Satterthwaite, Janani Vivekananda (2015), International Development Planning Review, Volume 37, Number 1. Liverpool University Press

Small Cities and Towns in Africa: Insights into Adaptation Challenges and Potentials, Ben Wisner, Mark Pelling, Adolfo Mascarenhas, Ailsa Holloway, Babacar Ndong, Papa Faye, Jesse Ribot, David Simon (2015), Urban Vulnerability and Climate Change in Africa. Future City, vol 4. Springer


Urban ARK, led by Kings College London, is a partnership of 12 policy and academic organisations.