Pretoria — The Habitat III thematic meeting on informal settlements kicked off in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday.
The thematic meeting is a precursor to the UN conference on housing and urban sustainable development, Habitat III, to be held in Quito, Ecuador in October.
Informal settlements and housing should be one of the top priorities for the New Urban Agenda, said Dr Joan Clos, UN Secretary General of the Habitat III Conference in his opening remarks. Slums are a “complex and difficult question,” he said.
Globally, there are 1 billion people living in slums and informal settlements – about one quarter of the world’s urban population. The number of slum dwellers around the world continues to grow at about 10 percent per year, he said.
In Africa, this problem is particularly acute, with 61.7 percent of Africa’s urban population living in slums, he said.
Along with the required physical and financial resources required for robust and fortified urban development that leads to sustainable growth that allows the poor to get out of poverty, Clos called for countries to focus on their legal frameworks. Some countries need to reform their constitutions because they don’t allow for good organisation, he said.
There is a need to put affordable public housing “at the centre,” said Clos.
In host country South Africa, an estimated 1.8 million people still do not have access to adequate housing, despite the government supplying 4.3 million houses since the transition to democracy in 1994, said South Africa’s Minister for Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu.
As part of its commitment to the Millenium Development Goals, South Africa had hoped to eliminate slums by 2014 but was now worried it could be something “we will not be able to fulfill in our lifetime,” she said.
She emphasized the need for South Africa to overcome the legacy of Apartheid spatial engineering, which resulted in poor black South Africans living on the periphery of major cities, far removed from economic opportunities.
The Habitat III conference later this year provides an opportunity to adjust strategies for urban development, she said.
In a following plenary session, Habitat for Humanity’s Tamzin Hudson noted that in-situ slum upgrading is the most effective mechanism for upgrading slums.
She highlighted the need for slum dwellers to get security of tenure, which would unlock investment, allowing people living in slums to get basic government services and allow governments to extend service delivery to due to an increased taxpayer base.
Photo: Delegates outside the Habitat III thematic meeting on informal settlements, held in Pretoria, South Africa, April 7-8. Brendon Bosworth
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