Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director, UN-HABITAT
I would like to congratulate the filmmakers of the film Good Fortune for their important effort in showing one of the most pressing issues facing our world today — rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies.
We live at a time of unprecedented and irreversible urbanization. As of today, 3.3 billion people (half of humanity) live in urban areas, and by 2030 this figure is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Whereas urbanization could be a cause for celebration, as cities are centers of economic excellence and cultural creativity, the unfortunate fact is that 1 billion people worldwide live in slums, where they have limited access to water, sanitation, housing and secure tenure.
UN-HABITAT, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, is the United Nations agency for housing and urban development. Our mandate is in line with Target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals: By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.
Kenya’s slums are growing at an unprecedented rate. In 2005, the Nairobi metropolitan region was inhabited by an estimated 6.76 million people. More than 70 percent of them live in slums under appalling conditions without shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation. The slum of Kibera, where Good Fortune was shot, is one of the largest informal settlements in Africa (600,000 to 1 million people living on 256 hectares).
The Kenyan government and local authorities are faced with the serious challenge of guiding the physical growth of urban areas and providing adequate services for the growing urban population. If the gap between the supply of and demand for urban services, such as water supply, sanitation and housing, continues to grow, the social consequences of urbanization could be severe.
In Kibera, UN-HABITAT is working jointly with the government of Kenya to implement a demonstration phase of the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (PDF). Created in 2004, this program aims to improve the livelihoods of people living and working in informal settlements in the urban areas of Kenya through the provision of security of tenure and physical and social infrastructure, as well as opportunities for housing improvement and income generation.
The goal of improving slums, along with the inseparable task of reducing poverty, can only be achieved through a common vision. We have to be against poverty, not the poor. We are against slums, not slum dwellers. Slums and poverty would not exist if there were genuine commitment and political will to combat them. And this common vision can only be realized through genuine partnerships.
The Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme draws on the expertise of a wide variety of partners. Involvement of local communities is crucial to success, as only the members of those communities know what they need, and only they can guarantee program ownership and sustainability.
UN-HABITAT is playing a leading role to ensure the full involvement and participation of the local community in all facets of project development and implementation. Active involvement on the part of slum dwellers demonstrates that they can take responsibility for their living conditions, and that their contribution is essential to finding lasting solutions. Their participation also builds social cohesiveness and integration within their community.
Let us be under no illusion that slum upgrading is easy. The film successfully shows some perspectives of urban development. However, the film cannot show many of the complex stages involved in slum upgrading.
In addition to constructing low-cost housing, the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme is improving water, sanitation and waste management services; constructing a low-volume road; and providing household power connections in conjunction with the Kenya Power and Lighting Company. UN-HABITAT is also conducting training courses to empower the community. Most recently, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a youth resource center that will include computer facilities and a dispensary.
These efforts should go some way to improving the lives of some of the slum dwellers in Kibera and to meeting Target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals. But this is just the beginning.
Nairobi is growing at a rate of almost 5 percent a year. By 2030, the population of Nairobi will be over 20 million. If we do not commit ourselves to slum upgrading in places like Kibera, it is predicted that the worldwide slum population could double to over 2 billon people.
We need to raise awareness about slums and the urgent need for slum upgrading, with all its complexities. And it is important for filmmakers and journalists to highlight the plight of the urban poor.
Anna Tibaijuka is the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. During her first two years in office, Mrs Tibaijuka oversaw major reforms that led the UN General Assembly to upgrade the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements to a fully-fledged UN program. Mrs Tibaijuka has spearheaded UN-HABITAT’s main objective of improving the lives of slum dwellers in line with the Millennium Development Goals. UN-HABITAT is responsible for leading the effort on Target 11 of those goals: improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020. Apart from her UN-HABITAT activities, Mrs Tibaijuka is dedicated to the role and rights of women in development. The founding Chairperson of the independent Tanzanian National Women's Council (BAWATA), she is also the founding Chairperson of the Barbro Johansson Girls Education Trust dedicated to promoting high standards of education for girls in Africa.