|As the United Nations launched the Status Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report, its specialized human settlements arm, UN-HABITAT said the increasing numbers of slum dwellers and lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation continued to pose great challenges to development.|
UN-HABITAT is the agency within the UN charged with the responsibility of helping the international community implement Goal 7 target 11 which seeks to ensure environmental sustainability including improving the living conditions of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 and to halve the number of poor people without clean water and adequate sanitation by 2015.
Towards achieving these MDGs, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka said, “There is still a lot more to be done, especially as the numbers of slum dwellers continue to increase annually. Slum upgrading and integrated urban development is a major challenge and urgent measures need to be put in place to arrest the proliferation of slums and squatter settlements. One of the sad truths of our time is the increasing urbanization of poverty.”
The facts and figures
Currently almost half of the world’s 6 billion people live in cities. Of this 3 billion city dwellers it is estimated that about a third live in slums. The world’s slum dwellers increased by 200 million, from approximately 700 to 900 million, between 1990-2000. Currently, the biggest numbers of slum dwellers are found in South Asia, Eastern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Slum dwellers of Sub-Saharan Africa deserve urgent measures, as most of them suffer from a multitude of deprivations at once, which is lack of water, sanitation, durable housing and adequate living space, at the same time.
An additional problem is that projections suggest that, if past trends of urbanization and slum formation continue, the slum population will amount to 1.356 billion, in 2015, the target year for most of the MDGs. This has led many in the international community to suggest that the campaign to improve the living conditions of slum dwellers must be more pro-active. For example, if the world development community wants to reduce the potential number of slum dwellers by half, as is the case of the other MDGs, the lives of at least 667 million less slum dwellers around the world would need to be improved by 2015.
Addressing the slum challenge
UN-HABITAT has been in the forefront of addressing the slum challenge through various interventions. The agency has successfully launched the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure in three countries in West Africa. Memoranda of Understanding were signed with countries in East Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, while cooperation agreements were concluded with amongst others Phillipines, Cambodia and Thailand with the aim of promoting slum-upgrading.
Work was carried out on law and land reviews in a number of countries and the best practices noted are being fed into the campaign on secure tenure while an international task force to facilitate negotiated policy alternatives to unlawful eviction was created, which resulted in some governments establishing a post of housing rights officer in the relevant ministries.
A good example of slum upgrading is an initiative undertaken here in Kenya. In this initiative, UN-HABITAT was intermediary in a debt for land swap scheme between the Government of Finland and the Government of Kenya, the first of its kind. The UN-HABITAT/Government of Kenya Slum Upgrading Project is located at Athi River and in Kibera (the largest urban slum in Africa).
UN-HABITAT believes the problems are surmountable. The recent announcement by the Honourable Minister of Finance, on the Kenya Budget Day, of KShs. 500 Million for Slum Upgrading is indeed a very significant move in the national and global effort to meeting housing needs of the urban poor. This fund marks the beginning of a major financial commitment by the Government to address the situation in the slums and informal settlements in all urban centres in Kenya. The move of the Kenya Government is noted with appreciation and confirms the government’s commitment to addressing the needs of the poor. These funds will go a long way to demonstrate one approach of addressing the housing problem.
Meeting the water and sanitation targets
According to the report, during 1990s, access to improved drinking water sources increased substantially. However, over a billion people have yet to benefit, with lowest coverage in rural areas and urban slums. Much slower progress has been made globally in improving sanitation. An estimated 2.6 billion people -- representing half the developing world -- lack toilets and other forms of improved sanitation.
Sanitation is still a big problem, although coverage in the developing world rose from 34 per cent in 1990 to 49 percent in 2002. If present trends continue, close to 2.4 billion people worldwide will still be without improved sanitation in 2015.
In addressing this problem, UN-HABITAT recorded progress in implementing the ‘Water for African Cities’ and ‘Water for Asian Cities’ programmes. Regional and country consultations have been conducted, and strategic support was provided to community-led initiatives for improving water and sanitation for the urban poor. Consultations have also started on a new ‘Water for Eastern European Cities’ programme.
A collaborative initiative between UN-HABITAT, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of Netherlands, ‘Water for Asian Cities’ Programme aims to support Asian cities to achieve the water and sanitation related MDGs. It anticipates to get a US$ 10 million from the Government of Netherlands and the ADB, with follow up loans from the ADB amounting to US$200 million to Asian cities over a five year period from 2003-2007.
To ensure sustainability, training and capacity building was carried out in various municipalities including running workshops for Water Utility Managers in eight countries.
Financing the MDGs
To further strengthen its capacity to meet the MDGs especially those concerned with reducing slums, UN-HABITAT has established the Slum Upgrading Facility (SUF) with the aim of facilitating the mobilization of public and private sector resources to support the implementation of the Millennium Declaration target on slums at country and city levels in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. This is one of the priorities highlighted for funding in the Commission for Africa report “Our Common Interest”.
When fully functional, SUF will provide finance for the mobilization of seed capital and technical assistance to develop and support mechanisms for mobilizing domestic resources and capital in order to improve the availability of affordable housing, adequate shelter and infrastructure. The Facility links four key groups comprising local authorities, community-based organizations, local finance institutions and international donor programmes
UN-HABITAT has also established the Water and Sanitation Trust Fund in 2004 with the aim of promoting the goal on water and sanitation. The Trust Fund which is based on a well-coordinated programmatic approach, allows donors to improve their aid-effectiveness by contributing to a consolidated fund, dedicated to a well-defined goal with clearly set objectives.
The fund offers its contributors an opportunity to effectively target a high priority sector by taking advantage of the mandate and well demonstrated core competencies of UN-HABITAT. In 2005, the Trust Fund will undertake the following activities: full operationalization of the regional water programmes in Africa and Asia; implementation of the Lake Victoria initiative in six pilot towns and development of the Mekong regional initiative.