Ministers responsible for housing and urban development from more than 30 African countries gathered in Nairobi on Monday for a two-day conference to thrash out new strategies to aimed at achieving the World Summit Commitments on slums.
Alluding to the fact that 72 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population are slum dwellers, speaker after speaker at the Special African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD) pledged to make every effort to reduce urban poverty and ensure that cities in Africa are sustainably managed.
Mr. Moody Awori, Vice-President of Kenya, whose government is hosting the conference, said in an opening address: “Honourable Ministers, the upgrading of existing slums slum and informal settlements addresses the backlog of urban neglect, but many cities especially in Africa will face the onslaught of new urban residents over the next several decades. Without significant improvements in the capacities of local government and private sector to provide services for new residents, many of whom are poor, the problems of current slum and squatter settlements will pale by comparison.”
Mr. Awori warned that the future growth in demand for services would require significant strengthening of urban management and financial performance, couple with more effective partnerships with the private sector and the communities themselves.
Ms. Lindiwe Sisulu, the South African Housing Minister and Chair of the AMCHUD conference, agreed, saying: “An August 2005 report of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa entitled, ‘The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa: Progress and challenges, paints the picture for us in this regard.”
“It highlights that in 2000, over 290 million of the population lived in extreme poverty, a figure that rose from 217 million in 1999. Life expectancy has declined from 50 years to 47 years,” she said citing similar declines in primary education, and sanitation rates in Africa. Ms. Sisulu said this contrasted sharply with the developing world where all the figures showed improvements in each of these areas.
Many speakers referred to the 2005 World Summit Outcome, consistent with the concerns expressed in the Enhanced Framework of AMCHUD’s inaugural meeting in Durban, South Africa in 2005. Ms. Sisulu said extended a further “glimmer of hope” on the challenge of slums.
The World Summit Outcome read: “In pursuance of our commitment (in the MDGs) to achieve sustainable development, we further resolve to achieve significant improvements in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 (MDG 7, Target 11), recognising the urgent need for the provision of increased resources for affordable housing and housing-related infrastructure, prioritising slum prevention and slum upgrading, and to encourage support for the United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation and its Slum Upgrading Facility.”
“Therefore, if for 15 years, progress in Africa in achieving the MDGs has been at best slow, and at the worst, regressing, there is now need to implement Decision 29 of the Executive Council (of the African Union on slums) and the 2005 World Summit Outcome not through mere general commitments and statements, but through a focused programmed of action that increases the speed of the implementation of our decisions,” she said. “As our established vehicle, AMCHUD will be key in this regard.”
Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT said that also MDG 7, Target 11 was the only one that addressed the issue of urban poverty, it was important to recognise that the urban context remained critical to meeting all the goals.
“By improving the lives of slum dwellers, we are also combating malnutrition and diseases, many of which are directly linked to overcrowding and to the lack of clean water and improved sanitation,” she said. “By the same token, slum improvement helps improve environmental sustainability and addresses gender inequality in the most efficient manner.”
Referring to various programmes of the agency in Africa such as the Water and Sanitation Trust Fund currently supporting the efforts of 14 countries in Africa under the Water for African Cities programme, and the Slum Upgrading Facility to help raise domestic capital to invest in pro-poor housing and urban development, she added:
“We want AMCHUD to be a vehicle for slum prevention and upgrading in Africa. Our destination is clear – sustainable, thriving and inclusive cities. How we drive the process is up to us.
“Over the next two days, let us discuss, development and agree on a basic framework of action that reflects our values, principles but that also requires our integrity in implementation,” Mrs Tibaijuka said.
Kenya’s Minister of Housing, Mr. Soita Shitanda, agreed with the other speakers. He said one of the biggest problems in urban Africa was the “deplorable” state of its physical infrastructure, and that poor sanitation was characteristic of urban poverty around the continent.
“As we strive to provide for urban slum dwellers, we also need to recognise the interdependency and socio-economic dynamics between urban and rural areas,” Mr. Shitanda said. “Unfortunately urban and rural areas have traditionally, and still continue to be viewed as mutually exclusive and competing spheres both by local and central government and even by the international community.”
In a message read on her behalf, Advocate Bience Gawanas, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union, recalled that the AU, in collaboration with UN-HABITAT and the South African government had organised the first AMCHUD conference in South Africa last year.
Pledging the continuing support of the AU, she said she hoped the two-day AMCHUD meeting in Nairobi would help push forward the outcomes of its inaugural conference. “I therefore wish to encourage exploring the challenges, achievements so far in implementing the various continental and international commitments, including the MDGs, and charting the way forward.”