The African Union Commission and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) agreed here Thursday to team up in promoting a balanced urban development in Africa.
AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Omar Konare and UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka said collaboration between the two institutions is vital for implementation of the decision of African leaders on promoting the development of sustainable cities and towns in Africa.
Concerned with the rapid rate of urbanisation on the continent, the AU leaders, during the second ordinary summit in Maputo last year, requested UN-HABITAT to continue rendering support to the AU Commission in the implementation of the decision.
"UN-HABITAT is a very important partner, and, together we have to translate the decision taken by African Heads of State and Government into concrete action," Konare remarked at a meeting Thursday with the UN agency's chief at the AU headquarters. Noting that both parties shared the same mission, Konare said the UN system as a whole "should assist us in implementing our African policies."
Konare praised South Africa for offering to host, sometime in May 2004, a conference of African ministers responsible for housing and urban development as part of the implementation of the AU summit decision.
As people increasingly move from country sides to Africa's urban centres in search of better opportunities, Tibaijuka said, they create slums where "human dignity cannot be maintained because they lack access to water and sanitation." She asked the AU Commission to mobilise the political will that would streamline Africa's urban challenge and adopt policies which can deliver housing for the rising numbers of the urban population.
"In African cities 72 percent of the population currently live in slums and this is a political challenge," Tibaijuka said, adding that the situation urgently called for a forum of a political nature to discuss the continent's needs for housing and urban development.
African leaders were concerned that, if left unchecked, rapid urbanisation on the continent is leading to the urbanisation of poverty with attendant problems of unemployment, food insecurity, and life under squalid conditions. Mrs. Tibaijuka suggested that the process requires creation of a specialised task force within the AU Commission to serve as the focal point for UN-HABITAT in carrying out the African leaders' decision.
Meanwhile, Konare commended the agency's move to work with city mayors across Africa. "Our policy-makers should understand that in addition to regional economic communities as our building blocks of African integration, local governments are the new actors. It is at that level that the impact of our [continental] policies is felt," he said.
Konare accepted an invitation from UN-HABITAT to take part in World Urban Forum II scheduled 13-17 September 2004 in Barcelona. The Spanish Mediterranean port city of Barcelona will host the Forum bringing together representatives of governments, local authorities, NGOs and experts on urban issues to address the new Millennium challenge of transition to an urban world.