United Nations officials as well as ministers in charge of cities development converged in Nairobi on Friday to begin a review of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme(UN-Habitat) dealing with urban planning amid concerns over worsening poverty in cities.
The 25th UN-Habitat Governing Council meeting holding from 17- 23 April in Nairobi will review the Nairobi-based agency’s decade- old urbanization agenda, amid concerns that cities have become the epicenter of worldwide pollution and drivers of urban poverty.
“It is a very important moment,” said Joan Clos, UN-Habitat Executive Director, at the opening of the session to debate new strategies to deal with urban pollution, poor transportation in cities and lack of gender equity in wealth distribution within cities.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message read on his behalf that although the link between urbanization and sustainable development was well understood, the role of urban centers in promotion of better livelihoods was questionable.
Ban regretted lack of proper urban planning and low levels of employment among the youth left millions of urban dwellers without basic services such as clean water, sanitation and led to discrimination of women.
“Sustainable development would lift millions of people from poverty, and accelerate economic growth is huge as demonstrated in recent decades by some of the major emerging economies,” Ban said.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner warned the urbanization challenges will reduce the quality of life, adding that both UNEP and the UN- Habitat had launched a “Green cities Partnership” which seek to address the challenge of poor transport within cities and urban waste management.
UNEP is insisting current urban policies should attempt to create bicycle lanes and focus on non-motorized transport that lowers the levels of green-house gas emissions from cars.
“UNEP is not just trying to create paths for bicycles to make sure those who want to move do so at lower costs but to create mobility in cities at low carbon,” Steiner said. “The buildings in urban centers should also not worsen the problem. We must make sure that we can move more efficiently.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who addressed the opening session, said part of efforts to address urbanization challenges should focus on addressing lack of housing and stunting growth caused by poor health conditions in cities.
He emphasized the need for the reform of the UN-Habitat to better equip it to deal with the urbanization challenges facing Africa and Asian countries, saying that urban centers were major economic growth centers, the main tax centers for government revenue, which were partly responsible for the demand for commodities from rural areas.
“Governance must be strengthened if UN-Habitat is to pursue the agenda we are shaping for it,” Kenyatta said. Enditem