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Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Originally a coastal fishing village, Abidjan was settled by by French colonists at the turn of the century and by 1934 it had been designated the capital of Côte d'Ivoire. Two decades later, Abidjan welcomed the completion of the Vridi Canal which connected the city on the lagoon to the Atlantic Ocean, and secured Abidjan's place as a commercial and trading centre. This new economic opportunity also sparked a surge in population from 17,000 in 1934 to 59,000 in 1950.

A middle income developing country, Côte d’Ivoire has achieved growth as a result of the high prices of its main export crops: coffee, cocoa, and timber. However, a global decline in the prices of these crops and the severe drought of 1982-1984 sent the economy into shock. This agriculturally-dependent economy has made some efforts to diversify, yet 75% of the export earnings continue to employ 60% of the workforce.

Unlike many other African cities, the 2.8 million inhabitants of Abidjan have benefited from an urban master plan. Nonetheless, the thriving economy of this modern city has been overwhelmed by in-migration from rural areas and less prosperous neighboring countries.

Most of Abidjan has a well-developed network of roads that are generally in good condition, including a strong public transportation system and a modern airport. However, despite government efforts, housing remains a critical problem in Abidjan, with an estimated 200,000 additional people needing housing each year.

The city is located on the top of a large and deep aquifer which has provided Abidjan with a adequate water supply system. However, the Ebrie Lagoon is becoming increasingly polluted due to discharge of industrial effluents and the pumping of organic sewage. While Abidjan is considered to have the best sewage and drainage system in West Africa, the system has not kept pace with the city’s growth.

Despite the total increase in health standards which have resulted in longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality, Abidjan is plagued with numerous health problems, namely guinea- worm and diarrheal diseases (a direct result of a poor sewage system), respiratory infections, measles and malnutrition. There is also a growing concern over acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

In a further attempt to reduce pressure on Abidjan, a programme of political decentralization was begun in the early 1980’s. It included the creation of a network of medium-sized towns to help attract young people away from cities. It also led to the 1983 decision to relocate the capital of Côte d’Ivoire to Yamoussoukrou. Although no longer serving as the nation’s capital, Abidjan remains Côte d’Ivoire’s cultural and commercial hub.

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