South Africa’s Ministry of Housing hosts the first African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD) at the Durban International Convention Centre in South Africa from 31 January to 4 February 2005. The conference, whose theme is Urbanization, Shelter and Development: Towards an Enhanced Framework for Sustainable Cities and Towns in Africa, reflects the political will in Africa to address at a continental level, the challenge of urbanization and goal of sustainable human settlements. The conference is aimed at developing a concerted framework of action to guide and reinforce individual national initiatives to manage, direct and harness the developmental attributes of towns and cities.
Recent studies indicate that only 19 per cent of the urban population in Africa has access to running water, 7.5 per cent are connected to the sewerage system, and 70 per cent of the Sub-Saharan African urban population are slum dwellers. The informal sector provides the means of livelihood for 78 per cent of the urban labour force. At the same time, the region is handicapped by weak local governance capacity. Despite the measures taken to decentralize functions in many countries, a corresponding transfer of resources has not taken place.
In less than two decades, more than half of the Africa’s population will be living in urban areas. The combined population of African cities will double in the next 14 to 18 years, as 200 million additional people – mostly from the countryside – take up residence in Africa’s cities. This rapid urbanization combined with the current problems, poses a major challenge not only for shelter delivery and governance, but also for ensuring adequate water, sanitation and basic infrastructure, security, social services, means of livelihoods and for combating major pandemics particularly HIV/AIDS.
It was against this background that the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT held consultations in September 2002 with the Minister for Housing of the Government of South Africa and a number of other Ministers of Housing to agree on what follow-up action should be taken after the Round Table on Partnerships for Sustainable African Cities, held during the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The Government of South Africa then expressed its desire to host an African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development to discuss programmatic policy tools for addressing the challenge of urbanization in Africa.
Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) at its Second Summit meeting held in Maputo, Mozambique from 4 to 12 July 2003, recognized the challenges posed by the rapid rate of urbanization in Africa, and adopted Decision 29 in which it called on the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT to continue rendering support to the Commission of the African Union to promote the development of sustainable cities and towns in Africa. This was followed by the AU’s African Population Commission (APC) adopting the theme of Urbanization, Shelter, and Development for its Fifth General Assembly. The Assembly, held every two years, is coordinated by the Joint Secretariat of the African Union, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa, and supported by the United Nations Population Fund.
The challenge of urbanization and the overall management of African cities also forms part of the Vision, Mission and Strategic Framework of the African Union for 2004-2007, which was submitted to the 3rd session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government in 2004. This first African Ministerial Meeting on Housing and Development, therefore, bring together the key players in Africa to determine how best to meet the challenge of rapid urbanization and providing adequate shelter for all.