Ministers and senior officials from more than 40 African countries gathered in Durban, South Africa on Thursday at the First African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD) to thrash out ways of tackling growing urbanization in a continent where, south of the Sahara, over 70 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums.
The meeting, which ends tomorrow after two-days of high-level talks on an Enhanced Framework of Implementation in Promoting Sustainable Cities and Towns in Africa, is aimed at not only dealing with acute urban poverty in the continent, but also pushing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) a step further than originally intended. It is organized jointly by the Government of South Africa, the African Union and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). In the build-up to the ministerial segment of the talks this week, representatives of several countries stressed that Africa had to push particularly hard on the MDGs, whatever the financial cost, because failure would carry a heavier social and financial price in the longer-term. Given present conditions, it is unlikely that Africa will be able to achieve the MDGs, unless drastic action is taken to address the continent's most pressing socio-economic crises.
Figures carried in the enhanced framework document showed that in sub-Sahara Africa it is estimated that 71 percent of the population live in poverty; that two out of five live in extreme poverty on less than one US dollar a day; that 31 African countries' life expectancy is only 46 years, and the per capita GDP just 469 US dollars. Africa is also the region most heavily afflicted in the world by HIV/AIDS, with 25.4 million sufferers in 2004 -- a year when 2.3 million Africans succumbed to the disease.
In Africa, rapid population growth has been accompanied by rapid urbanization. The pace of socio-economic development in urban centers has not been matched by parallel development of infrastructure and social service facilities. In some cities, the population living in slum areas reaches more than 60 per cent. Consequently, the majority of the population in some of the major African cities lives in abject poverty, illiteracy, and in unlivable housing conditions. Lack of basic services, such as water and sanitation, is an issue of major concern; only 19 per cent of the urban population in Africa has access to running water and only 7.5 per cent is connected to a sewerage system.
The eight-page document, negotiated over three days of painstaking talks on the urbanization of poverty on a continent where 20 million refugees have fled their countries, and where conflict has displaced a further 25 million people within their countries, is intended to enable Africa to harness its resources and take the initiative in bringing relief and hope to the poorest of the poor. The new framework aims to highlight measures for better urban development policies and strategies, so that the governed and those who govern will have a new urban vision for the future.
UN-HABITAT's Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, who arrived in Durban on Wednesday to deliver a keynote address on urban poverty to the ministers, will also be reporting the views expressed at the conference to the Commission for Africa set up by Prime Minister Tony Blair to bring African concerns to the fore of the agenda of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.