UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, told delegates attending the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development that African countries were poorer now than they were in the early 1960s, partly because the continent had been not been integrated into the world trade system on favourable terms.
Mrs. Tibaijuka added that the unfavourable terms of trade had, in turn, created phases of urbanization on the continent related in part to the shifting phases of Africa's position in the world economy.
UN-HABITAT's Executive Director said that urban poverty was one of the biggest challenges facing African countries and that currently two-thirds of Africa's urban population lived in informal settlements without adequate sanitation, water, transport or health services. UN-HABITAT projections indicate that Africa's population will cease to be a predominantly rural in 2030. Africa's urban population is increasing at above 3 per cent, and in just a decade, 40 per cent of Africa's people will live in urban areas, most condemned to slums and shanties.“These figures harshly draw our attention to the fact that the majority of city dwellers are widely doomed to live in poverty and also in poor environmental conditions,” Mrs. Tibaijuka said.
The Executive Director said that urban poverty was the cause of many social ills and threatened to break up the social fabric of African communities. Slums, she said, are “places where hunger prevails, and where young people are drawn into anti-social behaviour, including crime and terrorism, for lack of better alternatives.”
Ms. Bience Gawanas, the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, warned delegates attending the conference that Africa may not be able to meet the Millennium Development Goals, despite being endowed with abundant natural and human resources. She said that apart from being the most rapidly urbanizing continent, Africa had the highest birth rate and the highest morbidity and mortality rates in the world. She said that the trend could be reversed if African countries “work hard, together and in partnership with the international community”.
South Africa's Deputy President, Mr. Jacob Zuma, in a hard-hitting brief remark, said: “The existence of shack inhabitants and slum settlements on the continent remain a constant reminder that we have not fully achieved the goal of restoring the right to human dignity to all our peoples. We cannot ignore the indignity suffered by families living in shacks with no ablution facilities and no sanitation, no water, electricity or any other basic services we take for granted ourselves.”
Mrs. Tibaijuka, who is one of the 17 members of the Commission for Africa set up by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, assured the ministers and leaders attending the conference that she would bring their concerns to the attention of the Group of Eight industrialized countries, with urban poverty topping her list of priorities.
The conference, which ends today, is expected to finalize and adopt an Enhanced Framework of Implementation in Promoting Sustainable Cities and Town in Africa that will reflect Africa's common position on urbanization and housing, as well as the continent's own urban agenda.