The United Nations designated the first Monday of every October as World Habitat Day to reflect on the state of our towns and cities, and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter.
This year’s World Habitat Day was marked on October 7. The day reminds us that we all have the power and the responsibility to shape the future of our cities and towns. Urban areas especially cities are now home to slightly more than half of the world’s seven billion people.
Current urbanisation trends indicate that an additional three billion people will be living in urban areas by 2050, increasing the urban share of the world’s population to two-thirds. In the Kenyan context according to available data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, by 2050 about 50 percent of the Kenyan population will be living in the cities and by 2030, the population of Nairobi will be about six million people.
Cities are economic powerhouses that generate more than 80 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product. However, they are considered to be centres of environmental degradation that also experience huge social problems like poverty, lack of proper housing, inadequate basic services and infrastructure among others.
Kenya’s Constitution guarantees access to basic services such as water, sanitation, roads, housing and energy but urbanisation has put a strain on these services. For example the rapid urbanisation in the three major cities in Kenya i.e. Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu has resulted in expansion of informal settlements leading to inadequate facilities and limited access to basic services.
The world’s population grows by nearly 250,000 people every day. Developing countries such as Kenya cannot survive the pressure of population due to the meagre resources and quality of amenities unless we plan our cities sustainably. With such exponential population growth, there is a need to review how we plan our cities.
The goal is to ensure that we have sustainable smart cities that have adequate services such as water, electricity, functional transport system and proper waste management. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without proper urban planning and significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces.
Secondly, a key facilitator and enabler of realisation of sustainable cities and communities is active involvement of the communities in a structured manner. Organised community groups such as Resident Associations provide an effective mechanism for citizens to participate in urban development and contribute towards sustainable cities and communities.
Over the years, Kenya’s urban residents have become more proactive in wanting to get involved in decisions that affect them. This has seen a more rapid growth of citizen structures that are used as vehicles for engaging government in service delivery agenda. The government should therefore put in place enabling frameworks and mechanisms that support effective public participation in the sustainable development agenda.
There is also need for stakeholder platforms to facilitate sharing of ideas and development of resolutions that contribute towards community involvement in the sustainable development agenda.
To this end, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations will host a Resident Associations Summit on 21st to 22nd November . Its theme will be “Building Sustainable and Inclusive Cities and Communities in Kenya”.
The summit is designed to provide a platform for both state and non state actors to deliberate on the participatory and inclusive approach that Kenya needs to embrace towards accelerated achievement of sustainable and inclusive cities and communities.
Finally, the current digital transformation is assuming an increasingly decisive role in the sustainable development agenda. Cities intending to experience rapid sustainable development must embrace digitisation and innovation in areas such as social inclusion and management of resources.
Kenya as a country must leverage on digitisation and innovation in order to achieve the sustainable development goals by 2030.
Henry Ochieng, CEO, Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations