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Partnerships key to Africa's sustainable urban growth

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-05 09:13

With only seven years to go before the deadline arrives for the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Human Settlements Programme, or UNHabitat, is calling for partnerships among governments, the private sector and the community to realize Goal 11, which calls for making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Maimunah Sharif, executive director of UN-Habitat, said that in addition to urbanization challenges, Africa is also facing floods, heat waves, forest fires and animal extinction.

"We need to work together to tackle these challenges. We need to act now, starting with an individual, our family, community, villages, cities, country and the globe. We need transformative changes, not normal changes," she said.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily ahead of the second session of the UN-Habitat Assembly, scheduled from Monday through Friday, Sharif said that 600 million people currently live in urban areas of Africa and the continent is expected to be more than 50 percent urban by 2050.This means more than 1 billion people will be city dwellers, she said.

"We therefore have to ...invest in urban infrastructure, because Africa is still lacking basic services, including water, electricity, education and health."

Africa is a rapidly urbanizing region of the world, with an urban growth rate of 3.4 percent, according to UN-Habitat data. However, this urbanization is taking place within the context of rising unemployment, cash-strapped municipal authorities, weak governance, increasing poverty and inequality, proliferation of slums and other forms of vulnerabilities.

UN-Habitat data further indicates that Africa has the lowest levels of infrastructure provisions, with only 54 percent of the urban population having access to safely managed water and only 23 percent having access to sanitation services.

While the waste collection rate exceeds 70 percent in most regions of the world, municipalities in sub-Saharan Africa have an average collection rate of less than 60 percent, data indicates.

Sharif said the private sector could bring innovation and new designs to improve basic infrastructure, and urged governments to create a conducive investment environment for the private sector.

"African countries have plans, but we need the environment, the mechanism and the political will to turn these plans into action," she said. "I was informed that people without water supply have to pay 150 percent more than those who have it, and they also have to pay to go to the toilet. This cannot be accepted."

Sharif called for behavioral change in terms of production, consumption and energy generation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

She urged governments to set 10-year, 30-year and 50-year strategic plans on what should be done to deal with urban development financing challenges. This will facilitate the shift from accepting grants to receiving investments, she said.

Noting that China is a major infrastructure investor in Africa, Sharif suggested that Chinese companies focus on people-centered participatory approaches, involve local communities in decision-making and empower cities and local governments.

Sharif said the companies should also transfer knowledge and technology to the local people. "They must help the countries design and collect data before, during and after a project, in order to understand the impact of the project on the ground and ensure that people are able to manage it once it's handed over."

UN-Habitat stands ready to cooperate with the governments of China and African countries in advancing sustainable urbanization worldwide, she said.

Sharif lauded China for its urbanization achievements — from embracing and advancing a people-centered approach to urban planning, eradicating extreme poverty, achieving relevant SDGs, being active in fighting climate change and successfully launching housing projects.

She called on China to share its housing program with African countries, which are experiencing housing crunch.

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