His Royal Highness the Prince of Makkah Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, and the Mayor of Makkah Municipality Osama Ben Fadel Al-Bar, graced a workshop the next day (30 January) which evaluated the first phase of the Holy Makkah Municipal Observatory. Makkah Municipality which hosts the Hajj or pilgrimage annually, has been recording an increase in the number of pilgrims. Seven million visited Makkah last year and the Municipality has sought technical support to address the growing annual influx.
Effective and flexible urban development plans are some of the proposed long-term interventions. In addition, providing public services to pilgrims, promoting local development and preserving Makkah’s spiritual and religious character, unique historical heritage as well as adopting environment- friendly urban solutions are other interventions identified through the UN-Habitat Global Urban Observatory.
UN-Habitat was represented at the meeting 30 January by Alioune Badiane, Project Office Director, and Tarek El-Sheikh, Chief of Kuwait Office, and Masayuki Yokota, the Urban Programme Officer in Kuwait. The president of the Bank welcomed an agreement of cooperation with UN-Habitat and the possiblility of a visit by UN-Habitat Executive Director, Dr. Joan Clos.
Aref Bin Abdullah Quadi, General Supervisor of Makkah Urban Observatory, opened the workshop meeting expressing the significance of the Urban Observatory in Makkah where the city accommodates ever-growing number of the pilgrims from all around the world. Last year their numbers reached 7 million people.
He appreciated UN-Habitat’s technical support and training during the first phase of the urban observatory establishment. Mr. Badiane said that effective and flexible urban development plans are required to tackle multiple tasks Makkah is facing: the provision of public services for its visitors, local economic development, protection of Makkah’s spiritual and religious character and unique historical heritage, and sustainable development and by adopting environment- friendly urban solutions.
Throughout the workshop, it was stressed that Makkah Urban Observatory plays a significant role in responding to critical urban issues in Makkah, including densification of population.
By providing data sets on various urban indicators, Urban Observatory guides policy formulation and decision-making process. The workshop also explored a number of opportunities for partnerships between UN-Habitat and Holy Makkah Municipality in the second phase of the urban observatory programme. These opportunities include: a) increasing number of urban indicators in observatory to better serve mega urban development programmes; b) conducting a comprehensive review of the progress of the observatory; and c) knowledge management and sharing lessons learned.
Masayuki Yokota presented UN-Habitat’s approach for utilizing Geographic Information System (GIS) in Urban Observatory and introduced activities of UN-Habitat and the Arab Urban Development Institute in developing a regional platform for urban observatory support in Arab States.
In summing up the workshop, Tarek El-Sheikh called for establishment of a National Urban Observatory knowledge exchange network and development of a database and internet-based search engine on urban observatory, and also encouraged further unified assessment of the effectiveness, usefulness and sustainability requirements for an active observatory. It was also recommended that the Makkah urban observatory second phase enhance the dissemination of knowledge and experiences on urban observatories in the region with the support of research and academic institutions as well as the media.
At the closing ceremony, HRH Prince Khalid Al-Feisal commended the joint effort of the Urban Observatory Team and UN-HABITAT. He urged the team to ensure that high international standard in information support to development decision making is maintained. He also expressed his appreciation to the support given to Holy Makah Municipality.