NAIROBI, Kenya, May 30 – The UN-Habitat has secured a $152 million commitment from 38 governments and 10 local authorities to finance its sustainable urbanisation Strategic Plan for 2020-2025.
The blueprint whose implementation would require an estimated $1.9 billion is centred on four broad delivery areas namely; reducing spatial inequality, promoting shared prosperity, strengthening climate action, and enhancing urban crisis prevention.
Kenya, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Gambia, Morocco, Senegal and Malawi are among governments that have committed to finance the plan which seeks to upscale the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 on sustainable cities and community.
The commitments were made on Wednesday during a partnership and pledging conference which drew over 100 delegates attending the inaugural UN-Habitat Assembly in Gigiri, Nairobi.
Thirty-two organizations including two universities, also committed to partner with other agencies in a bid to realize urban-related SDGs.
UN-Habitat’s 2020-2025 strategic plan seeks to fast-track implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) adopted in 2016 under the Quito Declaration with an aim to curtail a projected rapid growth of informal settlements in urban areas where available data indicates two thirds of the world’s populations will have migrated to by 2050.
UN-Habitat projections show about 70 per cent of urban population will be living in informal settlements by 2050 hence the need for concerted efforts to attain targets set under the News Urban Agenda.
Speaking at the pledging and commitment session, UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Sharif said the agency was committed to helping countries eliminated spatial inequality and poverty adding no one and no place should be left behind.
She said the body was particularly focused on measures that would enhance prosperity in cities while safeguarding the climate agenda.
“Innovations in the context of sustainable urban development is defined as the activities and processes of creating and implementing new knowledge and solutions to improve living conditions for all in cities and communities,” Sharif noted.
“Cities are the physical manifestation of history and culture, and incubators of innovation, industry, technology, entrepreneurship and creativity,” she added.
Lars Gronvald, the European Union’s representative at the pledging conference said sustainable development was at the core of the bloc’s development strategy with EU being currently listed a leading donor to UN-Habitat urban initiatives.
World’s technology giant Microsoft was among seven companies that committed to the sustainable urbanisation agenda.
Alexandre Pinho, the Global Lead for the UN at Microsoft said the firm was pursuing strategic partnerships making a paradigm shift from corporate social responsibility-dominated programs.
He singled out technology as a critical dimension for innovative planning which participants at the high-level strategic dialogue attended by President Kenyatta, South Sudan’s Kiir and Prime Ministers Frank Bainimarama (Fiji) and Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr (Yemen) cited as a key to resolving urban planning challenges.
“Start with the outcomes and build the partnerships you need to create even more impact,” Pinho said.
President Kenyatta had emphasised the need to restructure urban planning and development to meet a growing housing deficit during a panel discussion with Kiir, Bainimarama and Daghr.
He said traditional housing models will need to be reviewed to address emerging hurdles derailing the New Urban Agenda.
“The traditional manner in which we’ve focused and moved on with issues on shelter is not able to keep pace with the growing demand of a growing young population. My government is keenly focused on how we can change the manner in which we provide housing,” Kenyatta remarked.
He identified the creation of the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company as a critical step to addressing housing shortage in the country.
Kiir urged development partners to upscale housing projects in order to create employment opportunities for the youth while noting the central role investments play in employment creation.
“This is where the youth will fit in and benefit from being employed and infrastructure itself. With development nobody will think about war – war is brought about by inadequate development. When there’s no development there’re no jobs and the youths will do nothing but think about what to engage themselves in and that is war,” he said.
The government is facing a hurdle implementing its affordable housing plan after the court suspended the implementation of a mandatory 1.5 per cent housing tax for salaries Kenyans.
During his inauguration in 2017, President Kenyatta had pledged to deliver 500,000 housing units by 2022.
Mortgage penetration in Kenya has remained significantly low despite a steady economic growth as captured in Gross Domestic Product indices with estimates showing the sector only offers about 25,000 mortgages against a demand of 1.2 million every year.
Deputy President William Ruto has previously said the government was working on modalities to ensure the sector is able to offer lower mortgage rates to afford low income earners an opportunity to own homes within fifteen years of paying sums equivalent to their monthly rent.
“Our economy is supposed to support 1.2 million mortgages… we only have 25,000. The structural problem is that most houses being built in the country are beyond the means of most Kenyans,” he told the Kenya National Union of Teacher annual delegates conference on December 15.
“Most mortgages are above Sh50,000 per month. How many can afford this? We want to make it possible for a Kenyan with Sh5,000 – Sh10,000 to have a mortgage where they by Sh5,000 – Sh10,000 a month and own a house in 15 years,” DP Ruto stated.
The Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, and Housing has vowed to bridge an estimated housing deficit of two million units through the soon to be established national housing fund.
Cabinet Secretary James Macharia on May 16 said the proposed 1.5 per cent housing levy will incentivize private developers to construct houses to meet the growing housing demand and prevent the growth of informal settlements.
“Until now we have a housing gap of about 2 million because developers and investors are always speculating on what would happen if they build houses and nobody buys them. This is the gap we’re trying to bridge as a government,” the CS noted.
He said the government will acquire houses developed by investors upon completion, twenty per cent of which will be reserved for social housing.
“If we have a fund financed by Kenyans investors can build as many houses as they can because the government will then be able to off take the houses through the housing fund,” Macharia explained during a pre-UN-Habitat briefing with Sharif at Transcom House.