UN-HABITAT and the European Commission this week pledged greater collaboration to help African countries address the challenge of rapid urbanization on the continent.
Participants at a three-day regional meeting in Nairobi said that with most African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries facing rapid urbanization, the huge challenges faced could only be effectively addressed through greater collaboration between the governments and other partners.
Discussing the theme, Urbanization Challenges in Africa, the workshop explored the possibilities of future collaboration between the Brussels-based ACP group of countries, the EC - the European Union’s executive arm - and UN-HABITAT.
The meeting attracted 110 participants. They included representatives of 16 African countries, 10 ministers and seven mayors, as well as representatives of EC country delegations who actively participated in the discussions.
African countries at the workshop included Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa and Tanzania.
The participants described the meeting as timely because the challenges of urbanization were overwhelming and had to be addressed.
UN-HABITAT emphasized that in an increasingly urbanizing Africa, the promotion of sustainable human settlements development encompasses the goals of economic growth, social equity, poverty reduction, cultural and ethnic cohesion, infrastructure provision and environmental protection. This requires strategic and forward-looking planning, consensus building and strong political commitment.
The European Commission said that, with ownership at the core of EU development policy, ACP countries had a central role in all stages of the development process. In addition, it advocated enhanced collaboration and commitment from all actors, national, municipal and donors. Commission officials said they looked forward to the Millennium Review that will assess progress on the urban issues and targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Both the EC and UN-HABITAT announced their intention to reinforce their collaboration, in particular by identifying areas for raising the profile of urban issues.
The regional workshop formed an integral part of the process of strengthening the cooperation between UN-HABITAT and the EC on implementation of the Habitat Agenda and the Millennium Development Goals in urban areas of Africa. Rapid concentration of urban populations in largely unplanned cities, sprawl of agglomerations into wide geographical areas and rapid growth of metropolitan areas are among the most significant aspects of the current demographic transformation in Africa. Worldwide, more than half of the global population will be living in urban areas by 2007 with 40 per cent of them children under 15, and 60 per cent of the total living in African cities.
There should be no doubt to both African political leaders and development partners at large, that the urban environment will strongly influence the world of 21st century. As a result, African urban and rural populations will be increasingly interdependent for their political, economic, social and environmental well-being.
Africa now has the world’s highest urbanization rates with an annual rate of urban growth of about 4 percent - almost twice that of Latin America and Asia. Currently, 37 per cent of the total African population lives in cities, but the figure is expected to rise to 53 per cent by 2030.
The participants took note with satisfaction of the cooperation agreement between UN-HABITAT and the secretariat of the ACP countries, signed in Brussels, Belgium, on 25 October 2004 and confirmed the relevance of the areas of cooperation contained in this agreement.
During the workshop, the participants raised several areas they thought warranted urgent attention as they directly affected the people. These areas included: Housing policies, urban planning and management, environmental urban management, post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction, participatory urban governance, housing and infrastructure finance, urban safety, urban-rural linkages, urban water and sanitation, decentralization and strengthening of local authorities, HIV/AIDS, and urban development indicators and statistics.