President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua of Nigeria this week warned African housing ministers that governments had to move beyond talking to action on the urgent task of delivering housing, utility services and pollution management.
He made the warning in remarks to 26 ministers and senior officials gathered in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, for the Second African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD II). The meeting is a new regional forum backed by UN-HABITAT to help governments deliver on Millennium Development Goals aimed at reducing global poverty.
“Two out of every five urban residents in Africa today live in circumstances that are deemed life and health threatening,” he said in a speech delivered on his behalf. “Be it in South Africa, Egypt or here in Nigeria, our people are confronted with the daunting task of securing decent and affordable housing, clean water supplies, efficient waste and pollution management, employment and urban transportation.”
It was therefore time, he said, for governments to move beyond talking to acting on measures, as the situation is getting more difficult each day. If left unaddressed, the present trends would result in the what he described as “the urbanization of poverty.”
“In this regard, political will, decentralization, good governance and the empowerment of national and local authorities, as well as the adoption of inclusive processes of mobilizing resources, the judicious allocation of resources and democratic decision making are all required in successfully addressing the urbanization challenge in Africa,” he said.
The ministers elected Nigerian Minister of State for Environment, Housing and Urban Development, Chief Chuka Odom, as the new Chairperson of AMCHUD, a position which will be jointly held with the Minister of Housing of the Republic of South Africa as the Co-chair. The Secretariat of the organization will remain in South Africa.
“The crisis in sub-prime mortgage lending in the USA has caught that mighty country by surprise, and has already unleashed a negative contagion throughout a number of developing countries, leaving behind ruined capital markets, destroyed financial stability within households and financial institutions alike, and messed up productive assets,” the Chief said. “Rising prices of food and fuel are increasingly eroding the gains achieved in the last decade, exacerbating the plight of the urban poor, and posing a great challenge for urban management.”
The Abuja summit of Housing Ministers will address the difficulties of overcoming the finance and resource challenges for sustainable housing and urban development.
The UN Millennium Project estimates that upgrading slums and meeting Goal 7, Target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals on improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 while also preventing the formation of new slums will require investing USD 4.2 billion per year or USD 440 per person over the period of 2005 to 2020.
Most of the funding for slum upgrading will come from subsidies, loans, savings and self-help, donor contributions.
UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka said in a keynote address at the opening session that the world was now passing through a crises of food, energy and housing so serious that there had been riots and protests in developing countries.
She said recent experiences of the United States and Europe should provide useful lessons to African policy makers on the importance of political will as well as on the power of the housing sector and its inter linkages with other critical areas of socio economic development.
She said: “The lesson for Africa is first, to take note of the important role of government in the sector of housing and urban development. In the case of the African region, it is not always guaranteed that these portfolios would get the attention they deserve.
“The second lesson is the need to build institutions, including government supported enterprises, and to build requisite capacities for resource mobilization, including facilitating access to critical resources like land.
“The housing and urban development sectors cannot just be left to the market without supportive institutions, without appropriate regulations and regulators. There is no place where such a laissez faire has policy has worked. And if laissez faire has not worked in the developed nations who pay serious attention to the sector, why should Africa be the exception.”
She also used the occasion of her visit to beef up the agency's bilateral ties with Nigeria.