Lack of political will and poor public policy is the reason why more than a billion people still live in urban slums worldwide.
This number could increase, especially in Africa, if governments and stakeholders do not move in to review their land legislation framework and urbanisation policies.
Dr Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, the deputy executive director of the United Nations Habitat, said African countries risk creating more slum settlements unless proper governance is enforced.
Kirabo, who was speaking at the second International Tripartite Conference of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) on sustainable urbanisation for poverty reduction which opened in Kigali, yesterday, warned that “this might hinder economies from achieving their millennium development goals.”
Urbanisation, she added, is not an accident, but a human-driven innovation, and if countries are to
develop they will have to rethink on how to address the rate at which slums are developing alongside economic development.
“We need to empower those living in slums so that they can make better decisions on how they can improve on their overall livelihood,” she said.
Kirabo warned that if economic growth is not properly monitored and evaluated, it could spark the formation of slums since it facilities rural urban migration, which exerts pressure on basic needs of life in urban areas.
She also commended Rwanda’s efforts toward transforming slums where more urban centre dwellers can access basic sanitation services, water and shelter.
The Minister for Infrastructure, Prof Silas Lwakabamba, said high rates of youth unemployment, food shortages, poverty coupled with lack of adequate infrastructure are the biggest challenges faced by African governments.
Prof. Lwakabamba added that government has a strategic urbanisation and settlement strategy designed to support human development that will benefit citizens through economic generating activities.
“We believe that by developing human settlements around economic activities, the challenge of sustainability in socio-economic and environmental aspects will be easily addressed,” Prof. Lwakabamba said.
Badiane Alioune, the UN Habitat programmes coordinator, warned governments against evicting slum dwellers without proper resettlement plan, saying it often results into creation of more slums instead.
Many people evicted from one place tend to seek alternative settlement, with the majority often ending up in a situation where they create another slum.
Officials said this is akin to shifting one slum to another location without solving the problem.
The Rwandan government has been urging some section of dwellers in high-risk zones to relocate to safer areas, with the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs providing relief and other resettlement packages.
The ACP Secretary-General, Dominique Michele Raymond, said despite the great steps taken toward urbanisation, there is need for more discussion on what form of urbanisation Africa must embrace.
Daniel Schaer, the head of European Union delegation in Rwanda, called upon African countries to emulate Rwanda’s strategic master plan toward urbanisation.
“Rwanda and Cameroon are currently showing great organisational skills in human settlement not seen elsewhere in Africa. I believe there is a lot other African countries and the rest of world can learn from Kigali Master Plan,” he said.
Lilian Mupende, the City of Kigali director for Urbanisation and planning, said 70 per cent of urban dwellers still live in slums.
But Mupende said that plans are underway to transform these slums into decent urban centres.
The recent UN-Habitat report says 47 per cent of one billion people in Africa live in urban areas. The number is projected to double by 2030, with big cities taking a great toll.
This, according to experts, could lead to more slum settlements.