An African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD) opened in Durban, South Africa, yesterday with a warning that unless African countries take urgent action on runaway urbanization and growing slums, they will fail future generations.
The conference, hosted by South Africa’s Ministry of Housing and co-sponsored by the African Union and UN-HABITAT, aims to produce a framework for African countries to adequately deal with the critical challenge of poverty alleviation through appropriate housing and urban development strategies.
Keynote speakers agreed that the theme chosen for the week-long conference, Urbanization, Shelter and Development: Towards an Enhanced Framework for Sustainable Cities and Towns in Africa, reflected the political will in Africa to address at a continental level the acute challenge of urban poverty. It was noted that some 70 per cent of urban residents in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums and squatter settlements; this situation is likely to deteriorate unless urgent action is taken to address it.A representative of the African Union cited population growth, poverty, unemployment, disease, poor governance, armed conflict, migration, refugee movements, internal displacements and environmental degradation as the main challenges facing African cities and towns, which simply do not have the capacity to absorb growing populations. Mr. Bience Gawanas, the African Union's Commissioner for Social Affairs, said that the Fifth General Assembly of the African Population Commission and this session of the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development constituted efforts by Africa as a whole to place urbanization, shelter and development as key issues of the continent's development.
Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, in a message read on her behalf by Mr. Lars Reutersward of UN-HABITAT, thanked the Government of South Africa, the African Union and other partner organizations for convening the Durban meeting, adding that the fact that more than 40 governments and experts, as well as representatives of regional and local authority associations and other UN agencies, were present was testimony to the importance of the meeting.
“It registers a shared concern about the directing of Africa 's urban future and underscores the necessity of working together to chart a way forward. The challenge of Africa 's rapid urbanization is neither a mere statistical preoccupation, nor is it a matter of secondary importance in a continent that is currently considered to be predominantly rural. The predicament of Africa 's urban centers has a tremendous impact on the overall process of national development,” said Mrs. Tibaijuka.
UN-HABITAT's Executive Director added that the Durban Conference offered African governments a great opportunity to take their recommendations to the forthcoming Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD 13) at UN headquarters in New York , which will discuss the issues of water and sanitation in human settlements. A first preparatory meeting for the CSD conference is scheduled in a month's time.