Mr Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, has said that urban settlements remain critical to setting Ghana on a more inclusive, productive, creative and sustainable course.
He said there was the need to change the urban areas and build opportunities in order to have prosperous urban settlements that place dominant roles in economic, political, and social lives of settlers.
?A prosperous urban settlement contributes to the economic growth through productivity, infrastructural development, ensures gender equality and protects the rights of minority and vulnerable groups, provides social services and preserves natural assets?.
Mr Ofosu-Ampofo, made this observation at a forum, organised by the Ministry and the United Nations to mark this year?s World Habitat Day, on Monday, in Accra.
He said the day, on the theme, ?changing cities, building opportunities?, is to reflect on the state of human settlements and the basic right to adequate shelter for all, and to alert the world on its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.
He said the day was also to raise awareness and stimulate action to address the challenges and opportunities in the urban settlements, as urbanization was fast becoming the pre-eminent development challenge in the 21st century.
Mr Ofosu-Ampofo said as the world moves into the urban age, the dynamism and intense vitality of cities become more prominent and it was urgent to provide a secure and sustainable way of life for the population that over the next four years would increase in size by a third.
He said the UN underscores the need to plan our cities better because unplanned growth of cities leads to chaotic development and urban sprawl.
He said the Ministry was playing a pivotal role in ensuring that urban planning, legal regulatory and institutional frameworks become an instrument of prosperity and well-being in the urban settlement.
?This is a time of solution to the numerous challenges that confront our cities and towns today. If we are to take measures that would make a difference to the lives of over 12 millions of people in Ghana?s urban settlements, and to future generations, we need sound and solid knowledge and information?.
Mr Ofosu-Ampofo said the Ministry in collaboration with other Ministries were spearheading the development of a comprehensive national urban policy framework and action plan to give a clear focus on urban development and management in the country.
?Government has also accepted the revised decentralization policy, with a four year action plan that had been approved by cabinet to deepen and accelerate decentralization and local governance for sustainable national development?, he added.
He, however, called on the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to use their mandate as planning authorities to ensure proper planning to better the well-being of the people, saying urban development was a cross-cutting activity and needed the coordination and collaboration of all stakeholders.
Ms Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, UN Resident Coordinator, said World Habitat Day creates the opportunity for all to reflect on the state of towns and cities, and also serves as a reminder to the basic right of all people to adequate shelter and the need for a collective responsibility for the future of human settlement.
She said half of the world?s population now lives in towns and cities, and Ghana?s population is now predominantly urban, with 51 percent living in cities.
She said the rapid growth of urbanization in Ghana calls for sound policies and urban environmental planning, with urban governance in place concrete and swift action need to follow to exploit the huge potential of urbanization.
?This potential would only be harnessed fully when we reserve Ghana?s unacceptable reality of rapid growth of slums, lack of affordable housing, erratic water and electricity supply, and lack of sanitation system, as well as strengthened urban disaster preparedness and risk reduction and investment in public transport and road safety?, she added.
Ms Sandhu-Rojon noted that a strong focus for quality education and employment would also be necessary to satisfy the aspirations and needs of the youth who form majority of the urban dwellers, in Ghana.
She called on government to rally together all stakeholders in the country?s quest for more sustainable urban settlement and assured of UN Habitat?s strong support to housing and urban development and of all collective efforts in delivering as one UN for Ghana?s sustained growth and development.