Maimunah Mohd Sharif, executive director of the UN-Habitat, said as urbanization accelerates in Africa, policymakers should prioritize revamping cities’ infrastructure to help cope with population pressure and climatic stresses.
According to Sharif, African cities are the new epicenters of innovation, talent, and economic vitality, hence the need to enact legislation to ensure they are safe, habitable, and resilient to natural disasters.
She said the second session of the United Nations Habitat Assembly, slated for June 5 to 9 in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, will present an opportunity for African countries to revitalize their urban agenda.
Held after every four-year cycle, the assembly is the highest decision-making body on urban issues within the UN system and comprises 193 UN member states.
The assembly will be held under the theme of "A sustainable urban future through inclusive and effective multilateralism: achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in times of global crises.."
Sharif noted that African cities have not been spared the negative impact of the global economic slowdown, the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, and the climate crisis, stressing that restoring their vibrancy demands policy shift, forward-looking leadership, and leveraging innovations.
Currently, an estimated 40 percent of Africa’s population live in urban areas, while 53 percent live in informal settlements that lack basic amenities, including safe drinking water, sanitation, and health, according to the UN-Habitat.
Oumar Sylla, director of the Regional Office for Africa at the UN-Habitat, said there is an urgency to tackle extreme poverty, pollution, youth unemployment, crime, and proliferation of slums, which is stifling efforts to create resilient cities in the continent.
Sylla called for the creation of a conducive policy and regulatory environment to spur investments in green mobility, affordable shelter, and waste recycling in a bid to accelerate urban renewal in Africa.
In addition, Sylla said leveraging data and innovations, research, capacity building, sharing of best practices, and domestic resource mobilization will be key to renewing African cities.
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