Wednesday Plenary Session
Partnership and Finance
The plenary session was moderated by Ms. Katherine Sierra, Vice-President and Head of Network for Infrastructure, World Bank, who warned that such were global population growth trends that the world would require the planning, financing and servicing facilities for a new city of a million people every week for the next 30 years. Also, poverty was becoming an urban phenomenon and cities must become inclusive places that provided welfare, markets for agricultural output, a good business environment, efficient transport, property rights and functioning urban land markets, water and sanitation, which were all public goods. It was to be borne in mind also that cities consumed 75 per cent of the world’s resources and generated 70 per cent of greenhouse gas pollution. Good governance, together with decentralization, were core requisites of development, and consequently the World Bank was promoting them.
Mr. Mohammad Yousuf Pashtun, Minister of Urban Development, Government of Afghanistan, said that after 25 years of war, Afghanistan’s cities had been destroyed, many of them literally flattened on a scale unimaginable to people outside the country. He characterized the country’s urban landscape as being in a severe state of post-conflict breakdown: over 70 per cent of all urban infrastructure had been totally destroyed, with the remaining 30 per cent in poor condition. At the same time, between 1978 and 2002 the urban population had grown from 1.5 million to over 5 million. Also, a further 5 million refugees had returned, and together with internally displaced people now streaming back to towns and cities, the country was experiencing a 5 per cent annual urban growth rate. Afghanistan was further beset by rapid rural-to-urban migration, the absence of effective land management policies, and acute shortages of technical and human capacities at the planning and municipal levels. He outlined the urban renewal plan devised at a meeting in 2002 of 150 international experts that two years later had formed the basis of the first National Urban Programme in Afghanistan.
The key challenges of Afghanistan’s urban development crisis were rapid urbanization, land security and management, a huge national housing deficit, an acute shortage of technical human resources, weak municipal revenue collection, and very slow urban infrastructure growth. The latter had led to the spread of new slums and informal settlements.
A large delegation from the Government of Afghanistan was present at the World Urban Forum in Vancouver, as had been the case in Barcelona in 2004: that presence signalled that Afghanistan had returned to the international fold, and that the country needed partnerships for development to get the National Urban Programme under way urgently. Thanking UN-Habitat, the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union and India, among others, for their support, he warned that Afghans still had an average life expectancy of just 43 years, that traditions still denied women their full potential, that warlords and drug traders remained a threat and that the country’s democratic structures were desperately weak. The urban crisis, however, should be seen by Afghanistan’s political and business partners as an opportunity for national and international investment, as Afghanistan possessed a reservoir of cheap skilled and unskilled labour. Afghanistan had affordable local construction materials, and a place where investments and new partnerships would generate job opportunities for millions of people. Despite its problems, Afghanistan was gradually becoming more secure: indeed, Kabul was a city in better shape than depicted by the international media, and he invited participants to come and visit it.
Ms. Pat Jacobsen, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink), Canada, explained how Vancouver used partnerships to mobilize funding to improve the infrastructure of that modern Pacific gateway city. She gave the example of a new $5 million rail service to link Vancouver with its neighbouring American city of Seattle to the south, for which partnerships were being used to help find the funding.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the City of Vancouver had been funding its public transport system from the public sector. In 2006, over 70 per cent of that funding was coming from user fees and fuel taxes. A new bridge being planned for the city would be funded from toll fees. $1.2 billion Canadian of private-sector capital had been used to build new infrastructure, and consequently TransLink had an obligation to involve its stakeholders in planning city transport.
In changing the way public transport infrastructure was funded, the main problems included the fact that public officials were not used to working with the private sector, that they often lacked sufficient skills and that both sides had different perceptions of each other. Nevertheless, the benefits of those new partnerships had paid off enormously, and their biggest supporters were their stakeholders: the users of the public transport system.
Mr. Robert Williams, Deputy Mayor of Georgetown, said that new partnerships were not an option for his city but rather a requirement in a globalizing world. Policies made in faraway places such as Washington D.C. on terrorism, or on global warming, had financial costs and implications for small countries such as Guyana. New partnerships simply had to be formed to manage cities better because governments and municipalities no longer had the capacity or the means to cope with increasing crime and other problems.
Partnerships were key to moving to action on implementing new systems that enabled municipalities to develop the services people expected of them. Local authorities were the true representatives of the people, and it was the people who had to be the real partners of municipalities. Urban safety and security could be ensured only through such partnerships: the way to move forward lay in genuine partnerships between stakeholders.