The demand for affordable housing is reaching critical levels worldwide, with five million new units required per year, or 4,000 new housing alternatives needed every hour by a growing population of the poor, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, told the World Credit Union conference in Hong Kong this week.
Mrs. Tibaijuka outlined the urgent need for affordable housing worldwide and the role that credit unions and African savings and credit cooperatives, known as SACCOs, can play to help meet this need.
"In Africa, 72% of the urban population are slum dwellers and in Asia 46% are slum dwellers," Tibaijuka told the audience. "And those who benefit by exploiting the poor don't want things to change."
Mrs. Tibaijuka explained that poor housing means much more than a lack of shelter. It causes malnutrition, poor health, low self-esteem and a raft of social issues, including crime and substance abuse. Rising food prices have only exacerbated the problem, she added.
"The advantages [of supporting the development of affordable housing] are great, and each of us must play a role," Tibaijuka added. "The knowledge and efforts on the part of credit unions can help millions."
Participants at the conference, an annual event of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), gained insights into credit union development in Africa, both through the eyes of Mrs. Tibaijuka, and by "traveling" directly to Kenya through a live computer uplink directly to a SACCO in Kenya. The country currently has 4,000 branches serving more than 4 million people.
The World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. The Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. It advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
Worldwide, 49,000 credit unions in 96 countries serve more than 177 million people. In 2007, the World Council's technical assistance programs reached nearly 6 million people in 17 countries.