Buildings play a vital role in ensuring the well-being and productivity of individuals within societies. More than just physical structures, they are integral components of economies, housing the critical infrastructure required to sustain the functioning of governments and businesses alike. They also serve as the initial safeguard against the forces of natural disasters and the impacts of a changing climate, offering protection to the broader population. 

A session at the GFDRR 2023 Partnership Days gave a preview of the report Building Regulations in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Status Review of the Building Regulatory Environment. This report marked a significant milestone as it provides the inaugural comprehensive assessment of the building regulatory landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa, where building regulations often trace their origins back to colonial-era documents and typically lack adaptations that would address contemporary challenges related to disasters and climate risks. 

Developed as part of GFDRR’s Building Regulation for Resilience line of work—which aims to help countries fortify their built environment through climate risk–informed policy and regulatory review; advisory for policy, regulatory, and institutional reforms; capacity building; and targeted knowledge exchanges—this report serves as a catalyst for initiating a much-needed policy discourse on urban resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The assessment revealed that 56 percent of urban development in Sub-Saharan Africa is informal, resulting in several challenges. For example, over the past 20 years, Nigeria has witnessed 200 structural collapses due to buildings being unable to withstand their load, while Kenya has experienced 87 collapses in the last five years alone. Out of 48 countries in the region, only four— Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, and Uganda—have updated and reformed their building regulatory documents in the past decade. 

The report also imparts valuable guidance on enhancing and modernizing building regulatory frameworks based on a comprehensive assessment. It recommends identifying key concerns through an inclusive and participatory process involving government stakeholders, local communities, and building professionals.

One of the recommendations put forward is to improve the transparency and efficiency of building regulations and control processes. This involves widely disseminating regulations and building control procedures, making them easily accessible online, and providing free access. For instance, Kenya has successfully digitized its processes, implementing a system that expedites the building permit process, enhancing efficiency, transparency, and attractiveness for individuals seeking to transition from the informal sector to the formal sector. 

Another recommendation entails investing in capacity development for both public and private sectors. In this regard, proactive support from governments plays an indispensable role in creating an enabling environment. For instance, in Nigeria, the city of Lagos has taken proactive steps to address the persistent issue of building collapses. It initiated public awareness campaigns emphasizing the importance of adhering to building regulations and established an anonymous whistleblower hotline to report unsafe structures, demonstrating the crucial role of government engagement in bolstering regulatory effectiveness. 

The report also underlines the importance of fostering knowledge sharing and promoting cross-regional collaboration to collectively tackle building resilience challenges. Since some countries have made more progress than others in developing and implementing regulatory frameworks, regional synergies can support coordinated and scalable solutions. For example, a shared process to update regulations, regional standards, and guidance can be complemented by tailoring these measures to specific country needs and implementation capacities. Ultimately, the report’s overarching objective is to drive risk- and climate-informed, context-specific improvements in building regulations toward a resilient built environment. Rather than serving as the final word on the building regulatory environment in Sub-Saharan Africa, it aims to spark the start of a critical conversation on an important issue that profoundly affects countless lives and livelihoods in the region.