AFRICA TO HARNESS URBANISATION FOR SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

The African Regional Meeting of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (HABITAT III) which held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja ended at the weekend with the adoption of wide range resolutions aimed at harnessing the potentials of urbanization to accelerate inclusive and sustainable growth.

With the theme, “Africa’s Priorities for the New Urban Agenda”, representatives of national governments, local and regional authorities, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations agencies, professionals and academia, private sector, civil society organizations, women, children and youth, participated in the three-day meeting hosted by Nigeria through the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing from February 24 – 26.

The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola and Chairman of the Preparatory Board for the Preparation of the Abuja Declaration, read the letters of the Declaration at the Closing Session of the Meeting.

He disclosed that the Conference in arriving at the Abuja Declaration was guided by the milestones of Habitat I and Habitat II Conferences, the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the Governing Council of UN-Habitat, Decision 29 of the second session of the African Union Assembly on urbanization, the recent adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, as well as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, among others.

The Conference listed the emerging challenge of forced urbanization to include conflicts, terrorism and natural disasters, which has forced populations to move en masse from rural areas to urban centres and vice versa, and across borders, stretching existing infrastructure resulting in increased insecurity and poverty which need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, as the fulcrum of the Abuja Declaration.

In the Declaration, delegates adopted “harnessing the potential of urbanization to accelerate structural transformation for inclusive and sustainable growth through allocating adequate financial resources to promote sustainable urbanization and human settlements development to drive structural transformation for the benefit of all citizens.”

This includes promotion of land titling and registration, resource generation through land base revenue and land value capture; inclusive economic growth that translates to full employment and decent jobs as well as improved living standards for all; enhancing connectivity between rural and urban areas to harness the full potential of the urban rural linkages; strengthening linkages between urbanization and structural change policies, including accelerated industrialization and agricultural modernization strategies for high productivity and value addition.

It also includes strengthening and creating systems of well-connected cities and human settlements at the national and regional levels as nodes of growth based on their competitive advantages; integrating urbanization into national development planning as a cross cutting factor driving national growth and transformation; prioritizing planning and investment for sustainable urban mobility systems that link people, places and economic opportunities.

The delegates, according to the host Minister, agreed on the enhancement of people-centered urban and human settlements through ensuring access to affordable basic services including clean water, sanitation, energy, health, education and sustainable transport and employment by all citizens in order to realize their full potential, especially youth, women and people in vulnerable groups; strengthening institutions and spatial planning systems to foster urban safety and security, as well as healthy environment and promotes inclusion through participatory approaches and consultative frameworks.

This includes ensuring access to sustainable, affordable and adequate housing and land, and promoting slum upgrading to ensure security of tenure and access to socio-economic facilities, taking into account the diversity of contexts, the potential of informal economies and the rights of the inhabitants; developing and implementing clean air policies to reduce health risks through regulatory and voluntary initiatives, working with multiple stakeholders; developing a national system of connected cities and human settlements to enhance rural-urban linkages and to advance growth and transformation based on their competitive advantages.

It also includes adopting integrated National Urbanization Policies in the context of national development planning to facilitate multi-sectoral coordination and collaboration and avoid sectoral silos; focusing on preemptive, spatial and programmatic urban planning to harness the full potential of urbanization and avoid irreversible and unsustainable pathways and accommodating cultural differences, promoting localized systems of sustainable urban development and increased attention for the preservation of cultural heritage.

Thirdly, the Conference resolved on the strengthening of institutions and systems for promoting transformative change in human settlements through enhancing capacities for rural and urban planning, governance and management, underpinned by sound data collection and use; promoting effective decentralized urban management by empowering cities and local governments, technically and financially, to deliver adequate shelter and sustainable human settlements; facilitating the participation of urban dwellers in urban governance and management; strengthening and harmonizing urban legislation and regulation to promote and facilitate planned urbanization.

The Abuja Declaration also included the enhancement of the contribution of urban and human settlements development to continental integration by taking advantage of urban corridors at the regional level for related infrastructural and other initiatives, cross regional interaction and movement of people; orienting regional and interregional infrastructure, facilities and initiatives to promote cross boundary interaction and leverage urban and human settlements assets; enhancing the urban dimension of existing sub-regional initiatives and investments ; positioning urbanization and human settlements as a driver of competitiveness through specialization and connected urban systems at the regional level, namely infrastructure, economy and institutions; developing sustainable cities with improved urban systems for improved functionality, efficiency including energy and resource efficiency and effective delivery of urban basic services and infrastructure.

In addition, the Conference declared and adopted “the enhancement of environmental sustainability, resilience and effective responses to climate change in cities and human settlements by strengthening capacities of local governments for strategic response to climate change adaptation and mitigation across the rural-urban continuum, developing infrastructure that is resilient and which will reduce the impact of disasters especially in slums and informal settlements and building institutional capacities and mechanisms, and disaster risk management and mitigation including early warning systems and urban observatories; promoting Green building and infrastructure technologies as well as the application of designs which mitigate climate change and adapt to its impact, including the urban heat island effect; fostering the utilization of sustainable renewable energy and natural resources as well as investment in Low Carbon production systems in urban centres; promoting resource efficiency in cities, to facilitate urban development in a manner that preserves rapidly diminishing natural resources, and allow cities to better manage water waste, food land and energy; developing systems for sustainable solid and liquid waste management, including promoting the principle of reducing, reusing and recycling of resources.”

Similarly, the Conference resolved to enhance efforts to advance a global partnership to facilitate the implementation of the new global urban and human settlements agenda by mobilizing financial resources from both state and non-state actors; enhancing multi-stakeholder engagement for the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda for cities and human settlements agenda in Africa, including the private sector; capacity building, skills and technology transfer for sustainable urban and human settlements planning and management.

Lastly, the delegates elected to strengthen UN-Habitat to make it politically visible, as the key player in mobilizing all relevant actors, State and non-State, in implementing the New Urban Agenda as the outcome of Habitat III as well as the urban and human settlements component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It reiterated the importance of the Nairobi Headquarters location of UN-Habitat by establishing universal membership at its Governing Council to give it more authority and legitimacy in decision-making; ensuring additional, stable and predictable financial resources both from regular and non-regular budget of the United Nations; improving the ability of the organization to provide capacity building to developing countries in designing, planning, implementation and sustainable management of urban and other human settlements.

This includes empowering UN-Habitat as the global anchor institution that mobilizes and leads all actors on the sustainable urbanization agenda, urban governance, and which engages the UN system in the implementation of mandates on urbanization and human settlements.

“We finally commit to promote the principles and the recommendations included in this Abuja Declaration for Habitat III, ensuring that this contributes to the upcoming Third Preparatory Committee meeting to be held in Surabaya in July 2016 as well as to the formulation of the New Urban Agenda at the next United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to be held in Quito (Ecuador) in October 2016,” the Abuja Declaration, dated February 26, 2016 and read by Mr Fashola, concluded.

Earlier at the Opening of the Conference, the Minister had advocated collaboration among all African countries in charting a new course through an understanding of their common challenges for infusion into the new global agenda.

He said in tackling the challenges of African settlement development, her goal should be to clearly define and infuse unique peculiarities of the challenges into the New Urban Agenda being fashioned for the entire world.

According to the Minister, “One of the goals which should be clear in our minds in this Conference is to utilise our commonality of purpose to define the unique peculiarities of human settlements’ development challenges of Africa and infuse same in the New Urban Agenda being fashioned for the world”.

The Minster noted that it was in recognition of the daunting challenges and implications of human settlements planning and development worldwide that the United Nations General Assembly instituted in 1976, a bi-decennial cycle of Conferences to redirect fresh attention towards sustainable urbanization and to device common agenda for managing the urban phenomenon.

“Today, we are at the tail end of implementation of the Habitat Agenda fashioned at the second Habitat Conference of 1996, and are at the threshold of evolving a New Urban Agenda for Habitat III Conference in October 2016, which is eight months away”, the Minister said.

According to him, “Each cycle of HABITAT Conference seeks to establish a unique set of actions that would tangibly promote sustainable urbanization amongst all nations as well as regions across the world and whose implementation would be binding on all”, adding that as a matter of necessity, every fresh agenda has always been comprehensively discussed and negotiated through well defined process of broad-based stakeholder engagements at different levels.

Noting that the schedules of preparatory activities towards the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador was in full swing, the Minister, expressed joy that the African Region has a unique privilege of concluding its regional conference ahead of Europe (to be held in Prague, Czech Republic in March} as well as Latin America and the Caribbeans (scheduled for Toluca, Mexico in April 2016).

“I surmise that this schedule imposes on us delegates the onerous burden of ensuring smooth, conclusive and mature negotiations at this Conference such that we can provide positive recommendations to successive regional conferences. I anticipate, in consonance with the expectations of UN HABITAT, that our regional conference would produce far reaching policy recommendations and a clear-cut set of declarations that would enrich the New Urban Agenda and bring visible profit to Africa”, he said.

Fashola described as heart warming, the contributions by Ministers from across Africa t at the meeting of African Union Ministers of Housing and Urban Development, declared open by the Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing in Nigeria, Baba Shehuri , and chaired by Mbogo Ngbabo Seli from Chad the previous day.
Reflecting on the theme of the Conference, “Africa’s Priorities for the New Urban Agenda” and its aim to chart a clear path towards a sustainable urban future for Africa and Africans, Fashola reiterated the need to chart such a course from within if African cities and towns must be places of opportunity and prosperity.

“Indeed no city can grow properly without robust infrastructure solutions. Without good roads and bridges, affordable housing and decent schools. Without constant electricity, clean water and clever town planning. We must therefore see the utilisation of infrastructure as critical tools of containment on one hand, and management on the other hand as we deal with the realities of decades of urbanization and its challenges, “ the Minister said.

Noting that the Ministry which he superintends has responsibility to develop some of the critical infrastructure that are needed to support Nigeria’s growth in collaboration with his colleagues in other Ministries, Fashola urged his counterparts from across Africa that it was time to start making decisions and taking action while first defining the quality and standard of life being aspired for on the Continent.

Also advocating a comprehensive perspective on the issue of urbanization , Fashola said one of the key solutions to creating sustainable cities and urban areas should happen hundreds of miles away from the city in the rural areas, adding, “We need to see Agriculture and farming as tools for sustainable urbanisation – essential for cities and towns to evolve properly. After all, it’s the people in rural area that will produce the food that the people in the city will eat”.

“Rural areas need to be supported. Our farmers need to be encouraged and supported to stay and grow food, employ local people, and provide food security for all. The best investment in public goods, including public health, education and infrastructure has traditionally been around the cities and the big towns. Let’s take a closer look at that, and turn it around”, the Minister said.

He added, “Our President has left no one in doubt about this Government’s commitment to Agriculture, not only to diversify our economy but to take the real economy to those who have struggled on the margins of our society and headed for the urban centres. Yes, a focus on agriculture can have a direct impact on the flow of people into cities already buckling under the strain of ever-squeezed resources”.

He said as the continent seeks the support of the International community, there could be no better forum “to speak about the need to reinforce, support and increase the capacity of the UN-Habitat as an institution that provides technical support to all of us, to develop in the way we have chosen rather than in the way that is chosen for us”.

According to him, beyond the on-going Regional Conference and eventual finalization of the New Urban Agenda at the forthcoming global Conference in Ecuador, African countries must remain fully focused on the universal set of objectives which they must continue to pursue.

“There are universal minimum standards for things like road traffic and healthcare, which we should embrace, but we as Africans, need to consider how we define the maximum standards achievable – not minimum. Africa must reach for the best the world has to offer,” he said.

Fashola, who expressed delight at the large turnout at the regional meeting, declared, “Even though I am inclined to single out my fellow Ministers from across Africa for special recognition, I must add that I am particularly encouraged with the impressive turnout of all categories of delegates to this conference.

“Indeed, I consider your enthusiastic response to our invitation as further testimony of growing goodwill and resurging confidence in the current administration in Nigeria, under the dynamic leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR”, he said.

In his remarks at the occasion, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo SAN, said the time has come for Africa to change the story of its cities and urban settlements from one of chaos, informality and squalor into a positive one of planning, tranquility and environmental sustainability.

Osinbajo said in doing so, the continent could glean lessons from other parts of the world while remaining fully conscious of Africa’s commonalities and using them to propel its urban agenda adding that African countries should therefore not expect that the core resources to propel their development should would come from their development partners “no matter how benign”.

“This is why Nigeria has given tangible support to the African Urban Agenda Programme in the UN-Habitat to aid the process of arriving at a common position on urbanization”, he said expressing joy that Ghana has also done the same and expressed confidence that other African countries would also take similar steps.

Urging African countries to tackle issues of urbanization and advance a positive narrative for it as a force for her continued development, “especially within the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union Agenda 2063”, the Vice President declared, “We must respond to the issues of urbanization in a coherent and coordinated manner as was done with respect to the Common African Position on the Post 2015 development agenda”.

“We must put the days when Africa would approach the world with discordant voices and come out the weaker for it, far behind us. This is why the Nigerian government welcomes the Common African Position on Habitat III that takes account of our joint efforts over the last decade and which will inform the debate at this preparatory conference”, he said.

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