Over 3000 participants expected at the UN-Habitat assembly in Kenya

Senior officials from Kenya and the UN Human Settlements Programme, known as UN-Habitat, have expressed their optimism that the upcoming first UN-Habitat Assembly will provide a platform for member states to discuss and find solutions to the current and expected urban challenges.

The assembly will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from May 27.

James Macharia, cabinet secretary in the Kenyan Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public Works, said the event will provide significant opportunities to form strategic alliances to advance sustainable urbanization and human settlements agenda.

He said it will mobilize strong political and financial support for the execution of UN-Habitat’s strategic plan, and the fulfillment of its role as a center of excellence and global leader in sustainable urbanization and human settlement.

“All preparations to host this event have been completed and Kenya is ready to welcome the delegates from across the world,” he said.

Maimunah Sharif, under secretary-general and executive director of UN-Habitat, said representatives of the member states will discuss urban issues such as adequate and affordable housing, good public transport and waste collection.

The availability of parks and other green, public spaces, urban safety, pollution and the effects of natural and man-made disasters, will also be discussed.

“The member states meeting in the formal plenary part of the assembly will agree on standards, pass resolutions, make key decisions and come up with a ministerial declaration which will set out how we can improve lives in towns and cities, especially for the vulnerable,” Sharif said.

She said more than 2,000 participants are expected to attend the event, including mayors, governors, business leaders, NGOs, academics and experts.

Fifty related events will be held, covering topics from safety in cities to migrants. There will also be an urban expo, featuring around 70 exhibitors showcasing latest technology on sustainable housing.

The event is happening at a time when the world is witnessing rapid urbanization, which has resulted in acute shortage of affordable and decent housing. This has consequently led to proliferation of slums and informal settlements as well as overcrowding.

According to McKinsey & Company, if current trends in urbanization and income growth persist, by 2025 the number of urban households that live in substandard housing, or are financially stretched by housing costs could grow to 440 million, from 330 million.

This could mean the global affordable housing gap would affect one in three urban dwellers, totaling to about 1.6 billion people.

Kenya’s urban population, for instance, is growing at 5 percent a year, with a third of the population currently living in towns and cities. That figure is expected to hit half by 2050, according to UN-Habitat.

To address the urbanization challenges, Macharia said Kenya plans to build 500,000 affordable homes over the next five years under the Affordable Housing Program.

The UN-Habitat’s habitat country program document will also assist Kenya in addressing the urbanization challenges. The document demonstrates how sustainable urbanization will support the achievement of the Kenya Vision 2030.

Since 2010, UN-Habitat has been working with 28 of the Kenyan 47 counties and has so far completed or is continuing with over 30 projects, according to Sharif.