Lagos 2050: How should Africa's biggest city prepare for doubling in size?

Story highlights

  • Lagos is a key driver behind Nigeria's predicted population of 397m in 2050
  • We ask health, infrastructure and education experts what Lagos needs to do to adapt and prosper

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(CNN)So your city is about to double in size, and it's happening whether you like it or not. Infrastructure will be strained, sanitation is a concern and children need educating.

What do you do?
For Lagos, this is the question on many experts' lips; a headache already 17.9 million people large and due to increase twofold by 2050 according to some predictions.
    A report last week from the Population Reference Bureau predicts that by 2050 three of the 10 most populous nations globally will be African -- with Nigeria at number four. The country's population is set to rocket to 397 million, bolstered by high fertility rates and consolidated by low net migration. To put this figure in context, by the century's midpoint, Nigeria's population would be larger than Central Africa's in its entirety.
    The population boom will impact the whole country, but nowhere will it be more profound than in Lagos. With that in mind, we set out to find out how the megacity is rising to the challenge by asking experts what it needs to do not just to adapt, but to prosper.

    Infrastructure: Rethinking urban geography

    Concept image from NLE, featured in "Uneven Growth," MoMA, New York
    Kunle Adeyemi, designer, urbanist and founder of NLE Architects, is optimistic that innovative solutions can address land management issues.
    Kunle Adeyemi
    "The opportunities of the population and economic growths of Lagos are now common knowledge," he explains.
    "To bridge the enormous physical and socio-economic gaps of the city, we must examine some of the most critical challenges common to all its inhabitants -- energy, water and transportation."
    Adeyemi has previously addressed the subject as part of "Uneven Growth" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and believes overcoming its infrastructure issues could be the making of a future Lagos.
    By 2050 he sees a city with a "multi-modal transportation system;" one "that has reduced its dependence on fossil fuels as its primary sources of energy, enabling the development of viable industries and local production."
    Makoko Floating School
    Localized solutions will be key to maximizing habitable space.
    Adeyemi believes Lagos needs to harness "one of its largest natural resources -- water -- to create sustainable living in its lagoon heart."
    Utilizing architectural innovations such as those used in the Makoko Floating School would reduce population density and create "a truly urbanized African water city."

    Education: Nurturing young talent

    Students leave the University of Lagos. (File image)
    Smart responses require a smart population, and education is one area set to become a potential crunch point.
    "There are two fundamental problems that currently exist which would be exacerbated should the government not take the right steps," says Akanimo Odon, principal consultant at Envirofly Consulting.
    Akanimo Odon
    "With less than 15 higher institutions (both public and private), Lagos is a far cry from meeting its higher education demands."
    Moreover, gaps between academia and industry "mean that even if there were an increase in higher education supply... graduates would not be well groomed to fit into industries or to create jobs."
    Odon argues a holistic approach is required.
    Investing in educational public-private partnerships could finance "centers of excellence," providing technical and vocational skills whilst "easing the pressure on higher education."
    The method of delivery is also in need of an overhaul, with Odon suggesting that education could be proliferated through e-learning.
    Through these improvements the system would not only meet the needs of Lagos, but has "the potential to power the entire national and other African economies... a market leader in the future."

    Health: Keeping a city on its feet

    A pharmacist searches for drugs in a pharmacy in Lagos on July 26, 2014.
    At present "the level of public investment in the healthcare system is not in line and keeping up with population growth," says Tilewa Adebajo, government adviser and CEO of The CFG Advisory.
    "Even private sector operators that are trying to meet the demand gap are not committing the required investment."
    Tilewa Adebajo
    There are no plans in place to expand existing hospitals, and "the challenge is to upgrade the existing ones," he suggests.
    With such a densely populated city, contagion has been a concern, but Adebajo claims that the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa "has proven that [the Lagos State Government] can deal with threats from epidemics." Although malaria and typhoid remain potential issues, the health service protocols for emergency situations are already up to "global standards."
    Lagos lacks world class health facilities, according to Adebajo. He describes a culture in which "the rich consult their doctors in Western capitals," and those that can afford it opt for medical tourism -- an industry worth "in excess of $500 million" annually in Nigeria.
    By 2050 "we need to reverse this trend," Adebajo argues.
    Part of his solution is the instigation of centers of healthcare excellence, "where top class surgeons can come from all over the world," and increased private sector investment, incentivized through land allocation for hospital use.