HABITAT: Rural Africa Needs Attention At City Summit

HABITAT: Rural Africa Needs Attention At City Summit

KAMPALA, Mar 3 (IPS) - Industrialised and developing countries appeared on collision course while heading for habitat ii - the second UN Conference on Human Settlements - over conflicting ideas on what constitutes shelter.

Differences emerged at a preparatory conference in the Ugandan capital this week, convened to discuss settlement problems in East, Central and Southern Africa.

According to Habitat ii Secretary General, Wally N'dow, urbanisation is necessary if cities are ''the engines of development''.

''They should provide the economic growth which will fund change. Unfortunately, this growth is likely to intensify the social and environmental problems of urban areas, problems like sewage disposal, noise and air pollution, crime and prostitution,'' he told the meeting.

He said that while urbanisation is a crucial issue of human settlements - a fact reflected in the Kampala declaration which recognises the rapid urbanisation of African countries, and the need for solutions to the problems of urban poverty and environmental deterioration - it is not the only issue.

Nor, for many parts of Africa, is it the main issue.

For example, while nearly three-quarters of the population of Latin America live in urban areas, the same is true of only one- third of people in Africa.

The urban population is only 19 percent of all peoples in East Africa. In Uganda, for instance, only 11 percent of the population live in built-up areas. Of the three million rural households, only 4,563 have inside running water and only 44,467 access to electricity. Some 950,000 households have no access to either a toilet or a pit latrine.

''If the more comprehensive definition of homelessness - embracing no shelter, temporary or sub-standard shelter and no security of tenure - were to be used, then most people in our rural areas would be considered homeless,'' Uganda's Vice President Wandire Specioza Kazimbwe told the meeting.

The director of Habitat ii, Dr. Pietro Garau agreed: ''Many East, Central and Southern African countries have taken the position that although cities are important, we must address the living environment of all people.''

Shelter has been high on the global agenda since 1976 when the United Nations recognised the urgency of the problem by launching a conference on human settlements, the first habitat parley.

Now 19 years later, governments are meeting to prepare for Habitat ii, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey in June, 1996.

Wally N'dow said this ''City Summit'' - the latest in a chain of un global conferences which began with the 1992 earth summit in Rio de Janeiro - would ''set the development goals and priorities of the international community for the 21st century.

Uganda's Vice President Wandire Specioza Kazimbwe told the meeting: ''The improvement of living conditions is a lot more than merely providing food, shelter and clothing. It refers to the improvement of the total environment.''

The Kampala preparatory meeting noted that already there were indications that major changes had taken place in the way the world was confronting settlement problems.

In the 1970s, the solution was thought to lie with governments providing cheap housing. Nowadays, governments see themselves more as facilitators, creating conditions which will enable the private sector to address housing needs for them.

Habitat ii was dubbed by UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros- Ghali the 'city summit', suggesting that the priority of the 1990s is urban areas.

Indeed, while one of the main goals of Habitat II is adequate shelter for all, much of the emphasis in the run-up to the Istanbul conference has focussed on the need for sustainable cities.

According to the United Nations, by the year 2000 50 percent of the world's nearly six billion people will be urban based. The number will grow to 60 percent by 2025 - three-quarters being people in the developing world.

But most African countries expressed fear that an emphasis on improving urban settlements poses the danger of creating a vicious circle in which more and more people will be forced to migrate to cities.

The Kampala declaration, the result of three days of discussion, stressed the need to improve rural facilities and rural-urban linkages.

''This question of urban and rural areas has been debated at great length by governments and non-governmental organisations.

''There has been a marked difference in emphasis from those governments which are heavily urbanised and those which are rural,'' Garau said, adding that the debate had reached such a level that it is possible the name of Habitat II might be changed before next year.

''We needed a title which is exciting,'' explained Garau, ''the UN Conference on Human Settlements wasn't, but the final choice should be a consensus of governments,'' he said.

Kazibwe, on the other hand, told the conference: ''I know that the UN secretary general has dubbed the istanbul conference 'the city summit'. But, whatever measures we take, we should not ignore rural Africa.'' (end/ips/ab/gk/mk95)

Message-ID:  []
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 1995 13:45:40 -0500
From: Nyanchama Matunda 

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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