JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Housing conditions in sub-Saharan Africa have improved dramatically since 2000, but nearly half the urban population still lives in slums, according to a major new study published on Wednesday.
Research in Nature magazine found the proportion of homes that met United Nations criteria for building standards, living space per person, water and sanitation had more than doubled between 2000 and 2015 to 23 percent.
But it estimated that 53 million urban Africans still lived in slum conditions in 2015, putting them at greater risk of mental health problems, respiratory and diarrhoeal disease and vector-borne diseases such as malaria.
Lead author Lucy Tusting of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the results were a "crucial step" toward achieving key U.N. development goals.
"This research provides the first accurate data on housing conditions across both urban and rural sub-Saharan Africa, showing dramatic improvements since 2000 but an unacceptable persistence of urban unimproved housing in 2015," she said.
"It also provides robust baseline data on African housing conditions for the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, highlighting the housing needs of millions of Africans," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
The study looked at about 662,000 houses in 32 countries over 15 years, using national surveys.
Africa's urban population is expected to triple in the next 50 years, according to the U.N., which has set the goal of ensuring everyone has access to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services by 2030.
Senior author Samir Bhatt from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London said the findings showed that poor sanitation remained commonplace across much of sub-Saharan Africa, hampering progress.
"Our study demonstrates that people are widely investing in their homes, but there is also an urgent need for governments to help improve water and sanitation infrastructure," he said.
The study found 47 percent of people in urban sub-Saharan Africa still lived in slum-like housing, meaning it was overcrowded, lacked good water or good sanitation, or was badly constructed.
It found poor sanitation - a key contributor to disease - accounted for much of the substandard housing in the region, where 90 percent of the world's malaria cases occur according to the U.N. children's agency.
Tusting said improving housing and sanitation was an effective means of reducing transmission of diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika virus.
"But it is important that health specialists work closely with urban planners, engineers and governments to help achieve that," she added.
(Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)