The 14th Global Forum on Human Settlements (GFHS 2019) kicked off on Thursday in the Ethiopian capital with an urgent call to embrace technological advancements in sustainable urban development in Africa and beyond.
The two-day GFHS 2019 meeting, which is being held at the United Nations Conference Center in Addis Ababa under the theme “Sustainable Development of Cities and Human Settlements in the Digital Era,” urged concerted efforts to support African countries’ endeavors to realize sustainable urban settlement.
Lu Haifeng, secretary-general of the GFHS, told the high-level meeting, which was held for the first time in the African continent, that Africa, more than any other part of the world, needs to harness the potential of the digital revolution in driving the momentum toward inclusive and smart cities.
“Africa is the future continent,” Lu said. “The continent is the birth place of mankind and embraces great and ancient civilization, which is full of vitality with abundant resources and adequate and strong labor sources.”
“Building a unified African free trade area will bring new opportunities for Africa, and the GFHS would like to actively promote all-round economic and cultural cooperation between Africa and other regions,” he said.
Noting that the GFHS 2019 meeting is a “timely, relevant and appropriate initiative that makes the international community alert to the urgent issues facing sustainable urbanization,” Lu also called for “proactive measures in solving this problem and making great strides toward sustainable development in the digital age.”
The forum is co-organized by the GFHS, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the International Telecommunication Union, and the World Urban Campaign.
Oliver Chinganya, director of African Center for Statistics at the ECA, said “numerous digital tools are enabling communities and countries to access key services, improve the flow of transportation, enhance information and knowledge flows, drive business competitiveness and keep our settlements safe.”
Chinganya, who is also director at the ECA’s Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resource Management Division, emphasized the need to comprehend and realize “human settlement in terms of quality of life and levels of satisfaction of basic needs.”
“These may include the availability, affordability, and quality of employment, housing, health, education, recreation and business opportunities among others,” he said. “It is these services that make cities magnets for people seeking to enhance their quality of life.”
Organizers say GFHS 2019 provides a valuable platform for high-level dialogue among stakeholders from around the world, especially from the African region, to look for leapfrogging opportunities that digital revolution is bringing for sustainable cities and human settlements.
Ethiopian Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity Seleshi Bekele also stressed the need to embrace the emergence of technologies to further boost better possibilities in Africa and other developing countries toward an improved human settlement and urbanization.
“Most of the settlements across Africa and other developing countries are still scattered in the wide span of rural areas and, hence, are not easy to reach to develop infrastructure,” he said, urging further engagement in modern ways of urbanization in the areas.
The high-level gathering also commits to strengthen advocacy and capacity-building, foster new partnerships, boost urban innovation, accelerate effective actions, and support various parts of Africa and beyond to develop inclusive green sustainable economy, to promote pragmatic cooperation in the context of the “Belt and Road Initiative” and to drive progress toward achieving the the UN”s Sustainable Development Goal 11 and the New Urban Agenda, organizers said. Enditem