The government of Finland has donated 750,000 euros for a pilot project to help UN-HABITAT promote sustainable neighbourhoods for Kenya’s urban poor. A signing ceremony on Tuesday at the Finnish embassy residence was addressed by Kenyan Minister for Roads, Public Works and Housing, Raila Odinga, Minister of Lands and Settlements Amos Kimunya, the Finnish Chargé d’Affaires Kimmo Laukkanen and UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka.
“Nairobi, being one of the key cities in Africa, has witnessed very rapid urbanisation during the last few decades. Here, like in the whole region, the rapid growth of the urban population has been closely connected to an increasing rate of urban poverty,”Mr. Laukkanen said. Given that an estimated 60 million people in southern and eastern Africa will be living in slums by the year 2015, he said, “our government has decided to cooperate with UN-HABITAT and the Kenyan government to upgrade the conditions of slum-dwellers in Nairobi to provide them with a better future”.
The project to be started on government land in Nairobi’s Athi River neighbourhood will involve residents in building a lasting neighbourhood with all the basic amenities. With sustainable urban development the key to poverty reduction in Africa, Mr. Laukkanen said the goal was to improve local governance and strengthen the capacity of the informal and community sectors.
Mr. Odinga said that in Kenya, a steady decline in housing development and production had resulted in overcrowding and the proliferation of slums: “The government is today more than ever before committed to working to improve the living conditions of its citizens both in urban and rural areas. My ministry is finalising a new policy framework to facilitate the delivery of 150,000 housing units per year over the next five years. This is an ambitious and enormous challenge that calls for consultations and forward planning, as well participation among all the stakeholders and development partners.”
Responding to questions by journalists, the officials all stressed that the new project in Athi River would not involve the eviction of people from Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slum or any other poverty-stricken neighbourhoods.
“This is an auspicious occasion,” said Mrs Tibaijuka. “Nobody will be forcibly removed. It is a voluntary relocation. I am convinced that we shall be working very closely now with the target group. The people themselves will be in the lead.” She said talks on the issue with the government had been concluded and that negotiations were underway with the community “whose lives we are trying to improve - and that’s what this project is all about.”
Citing the United Nations General Assembly principle that cities should be without slums, Mrs. Tibaijuka said studies conducted in Kibera, for example, showed that 80 percent of local residents were actually tenants.
“The amount of money they are paying for the shacks does not justify the amount paid for the investment,” she said. “The time will come when we sit down with the structure owners. Before you can do anything, you must talk with people.”
Mr. Kimunya said the government and UN-HABITAT were working together to contain the proliferation of slums. “The only way to control this is to eliminate slums and replace them with decent housing. We need to look at whole issue of proliferation of illegal structures. We need to control it.”