Rapid urbanisation calls for sustainable solutions in Africa

General view of the JKIA-Westlands Expressway. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A voyage of aspiration marked by hopes and visions of a better life underpins the migration from rural to urban regions in many parts of the world.

Every year, young people make a leap of faith by venturing into the uncertain alleys of our cities and towns in search of a better future. Thus, it is projected that Africa's urban population will double in 25 years and more than half of Kenya's population is anticipated to live in urban areas by 2050.

Rapid urbanisation presents numerous opportunities as well as challenges. It can accelerate socio-economic development and afford citizens opportunity to improve their lives, access public goods and services such as health care, education and housing. Conversely rapid urbanisation can trigger proliferation of informal settlements and constrain urban transport and other essential infrastructure.

Numerous global attempts to address rapid and unchecked urban growth, particularly in developing world have been made. The First United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I) held in Vancouver Canada in 1976 was probably the first multilateral conference convened to deliberate the challenges of human settlements.

Subsequent Habitat meetings including Habitat II held in 1996 in Istanbul and Habitat III held in Quito in 2016 made commendable efforts to use multilateralism to mobilise ideas and resources towards sustainable urbanisation.

However, it is the inclusion of goal 11 under the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, that is the clearest recognition of the role of urbanisation as a key driver for sustainable development. Kenya is privileged to host the headquarters of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the UN agency tasked to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities and the focal point for all urbanisation and human settlement matters within the UN system.

Kenya has been at the forefront in advocating for strengthening UN-Habitat to enhance its capacity to support member states in the area of urbanisation and human settlement. These efforts culminated in the adoption of a new governance structure in 2018 with the establishment of the UN-Habitat Assembly, the Executive Board and the Committee of Permanent Representatives as the key governing bodies of the organisation.

The UN-Habitat Assembly is a universal body composed of the 193 member states of the United Nations and convenes every four years in Nairobi. The Assembly inaugural meeting took place in 2019. As the body tasked with Identifying key issues and areas of focus for the work of UN-Habitat, review major trends related to human settlements and urbanisation, and recommending strategies for coherent implementation of urban and human settlements dimensions of the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda, the Assembly is the main forum for the global community to provide direction on sustainable urbanization.

Kenya is therefore honoured to host the 2nd session of the UN-Habitat Assembly this June. The assembly will create the much-needed impetus for the realisation of the targets set under the 2030 agenda for sustainable development especially on sustainable cities and communities. It will also be an ideal forum for member states and other stakeholders to discuss and make key decisions to create momentum for the new urban agenda. We urge the delegates to innovatively and ambitiously tackle the challenge of financing sustainable urbanisation in the face of multiple global crises.

The writer is Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary and an advocate of the High Court