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World’s urban poverty, inequality in focus as U.N., experts’ review habitat

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
03 October 2022   |   4:14 am
Faced with the grim reality of a world in which up to 163 million poor people now live in cities and urban areas - without income, decent housing and access basic services, governments around the globe are today pausing to marshal forces against the growing plague called urbanisation.

Traffic congestion… signs of population growth in Lagos

Faced with the grim reality of a world in which up to 163 million poor people now live in cities and urban areas – without income, decent housing and access basic services, governments around the globe are today pausing to marshal forces against the growing plague called urbanisation.

Nigerians live in an age where the world’s population will have grown to over seven billion and where more than half of them live in towns and cities. Projections indicate that this will increase to two-thirds in just over a generation from now.

Experts predict that by the year 2050, global population would have increased by 50 per cent. Today, over one billion people live in overcrowded settlements with inadequate housing – and that number is rising every day.

Every year the United Nations celebrates World Habitat Day on the first Monday of October, which marks the official start of Urban October: a month of celebrations and citizens’ engagement in urban life worldwide.

The purpose of World Habitat Day is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world that everyone have the power and responsibility to shape the future of cities and towns.

This year’s theme – ‘Mind the Gap. Leave No One and No Place Behind’ – puts the spotlight on widening living conditions across the world. It focuses on growing inequalities and gap between the haves and have-nots that are getting wider, as people living in cities and towns are affected the most, while many urban residents have lost their income or housing due to conflicts, natural disasters or COVID-19 pandemic.

Essentially, this year’s celebrations are quite special as winners of the UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour Award, including a Nigerian; Stanley Anigbogu will receive their plaques engraved with the name of the winning individual, city or institution at the global observance in Balikesir, Republic of Türkiye.

In a statement, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, called for more urgent action and greater investment to provide affordable housing to all alongside access to electricity, water, sanitation, transport, and other basic services.

“To leave no one behind is the core pledge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This means making cities work for women and children and closing existing gaps: between the haves and have – nots; within and between urban and rural areas; and within and between developed and developing regions.

“Cities, towns and communities can spearhead innovative solutions to address inequalities, ensure adequate shelter for all, tackle the climate crisis and drive a green and inclusive pandemic recovery. This includes pursuing people –centred policies, promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production, and prioritising green and resilient infrastructure,” he said.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN–Habitat), Executive Director, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, called on cities and local governments to play key roles in responding to the crises.

The agency said cities are accelerators of economic growth and by making them more equitable, urbanisation can also help distribute this growth. “If city managers have the right tools, they can plan and take action to reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots. That way, we will be able to create inclusive and resilient human settlements. We can also better prepare for future crises.”

According to Sharif, transformative change starts with the individual, with us as a community and with cities to scale things up. “Local action is the best way to accelerate implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. There is not much time left until 2030. We need to act now and make our cities truly inclusive places so that no one and no place is left behind,” she added.

In Nigeria, urban city experts have been meeting to examine the growing inequality and challenges in cities and human settlements, as well as making suggestion on how to better the environment.

President, Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Olutoyin Ayinde, urged governments at various levels to rise to the responsibility of providing leadership in funding the preparation of physical development plans for the nation, regions, states, cities, towns and communities.

“Governments need to respond to crises and emergencies, as well as invest in planning for inclusive, resilient and climate-friendly environments. This will help in working towards the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in developing livable cities and communities.

“To do otherwise is to completely miss the route to sustainable development and reduction of wide gap that already exists. We need to plan for generations ahead. We need to be deliberate on implementing those plans by consciously building as appropriate, giving respect to nature and humanity.”

Ayinde further said: “As professionals in field of urban and regional planning, we are pained by the lethargic approach to physical planning and preparation of plans which should be the first step taken in order to get out of our corporate predicament.

A past president, Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria (ATOPCON), Moses Ogunleye, said when policy initiatives are not made inclusive and most considerate of plurality of interests, a large number of city dwellers will continue to be left behind.

“For most public projects, programmes and plans, government officers are compelled by global practices to engage or consult beneficiary communities and other stakeholders, at various stages, the exercise have been mere cosmetics. This has contributed to the low level of success and sometimes, weak support by stakeholders for public projects in human settlements.

“To reduce the gaps, Ogunleye advised that various actors in human settlements development must consider the town or city as theirs. “They must show exceedingly great interest in the welfare of the town. With this, urban managers or city administrators will be more than compelled to always want to genuinely carry them along,” he added.