The western Kenyan city of Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria has been officially designated the first United Nations Millennium City in the world.
At a meeting in the city, the special advisor to the UN Secretary General, Jeffrey Sachs broke the news to the assembled delegates and said the challenge is now on Kisumu to work towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The meeting was held at the request of Professor Sachs and his Millennium Project Team with the purpose of frank discussion among residents on the urban re-development process, and what their problems and priorities are today in relation to goals outlined in the Kisumu City Development Strategy (CDS). Those present included local authority representatives in the Lake Victoria Region, local businesspeople and representatives from civil society.
UN-HABITAT officials present outlined the broad five-year development strategy for Kisumu. The outline took note of the fact that the challenge was to translate the vision into a reality adding that an MDG- based plan would provide the focus to achieve this and that the major hurdles in Kisumu include water and sanitation.
The agency said that Kisumu would be an ideal location to launch the Millennium Cities initiative because the start-up process has been ongoing with the many initiatives in the region. They noted that the Commission for Africa formed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair had identified rapid urbanization as the greatest challenge for African countries after the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As such, there was need for the Millennium team to try and achieve the MDGs both in the villages and the cities.
The UN Millennium Project is a three-year initiative conceived of by the United Nations to analyse policy options and develop a plan of implementation for achieving the MDGs. The goals provide a set of clear targets for reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women by 2015. They were adopted by world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000.
The meeting addressed by Professor Sachs coincided with a conference of experts organized by UN-HABITAT to discuss ways of financing action plans identified by local communities in the area.
The city was founded in 1901 with the coming of the Uganda Railway. Its population has since grown to over half a million people, some 60 percent of whom live below poverty line.
Professor Sachs emphasized that the challenge on Kisumu was to move from the planning stage to mobilizing resources for investments to meet the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Initiative will work with the people of Kisumu to identify and prioritize existing problems/issues and create a comprehensive, MDG-based economic development strategy to improve the standard of living of city residents.
The Mayor, Ms. Prisca Auma said Kisumu had embraced the MDGs because of increased poverty in the city. She identified the critical need to develop a comprehensive urban strategy for Kisumu to respond to the rapid urbanization and environmental degradation as a key challenge for the city.
She thanked UN HABITAT for its support in helping develop the Kisumu City Development Strategy (2004-2009), which she said represented the priorities ordinary people faced with a growing population and new urban development problems.