UN rep warns of rapid, chaotic urbanization

MONTREAL (CUP) — With Western media attention towards Africa narrowly focused on several key issues, one continent-wide disaster has gone largely unnoticed: urbanization. “Humanity stands at a turning point in history,” said Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, to an auditorium filled with current and former McGill students Oct.

MONTREAL (CUP) — With Western media attention towards Africa narrowly focused on several key issues, one continent-wide disaster has gone largely unnoticed: urbanization.
“Humanity stands at a turning point in history,” said Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, to an auditorium filled with current and former McGill students Oct. 20, as part of the 55th annual Beatty Memorial Lectures.
“The year 2007 will see, for the first time, the majority of human beings living in cities. And by 2030, three-quarters of the world’s population will be living in urban areas.”
Tibaijuka, who also serves as the executive director of UN-Habitat, draws on experiences from her native Tanzania to raise awareness about global, rapid and chaotic urbanization. Now she’s promoting the need for effective and sustainable solutions.
“I’m not speaking to you as an academic or as the head of a UN agency. I’m speaking to you as a mother, as a women from a Third-World country who has lived though it,” Tibaijuka said at the beginning of her lecture.
The highest-ranking African woman in the UN, Tibaijuka explained that over the course of the last 50 years there has been a massive shift of people in Sub-Saharan Africa from their rural homes to urban centres.
That shift also meant the loss of agricultural lifestyles in favour of crowded urban centers and – more often than not – the slums.
“People move because they think they will be better off,” she said, but when they find themselves living in slums, “they remain trapped by the hope that if it didn’t work for them, it will work for their children.”
Tibaijuka described the living conditions in Kibera, one of the largest of 100 slums in Nairobi, Kenya. The Economist estimates that 600,000 to 1.2-million people live on the 2.5 square kilometres of land with no access to running water or an electrical power grid.
The estimate that varies due to seasonal migration and the statistical sources.
“These slum dwellers are more likely to die young and get sick than any other group,” the UN Under-Secretary explained.
The 1-billion people living in slums worldwide have to contend with the horrors of poverty, malnutrition, disease and uncontrollable natural disasters. And with the number of slum dwellers expected to rise to 2-billion by 2030, the problem is worsening quickly.
Although climate change has cast a dark shadow on Western countries, it has hit the world’s poor the hardest, and is something that Tibaijuka mentioned repeatedly.
“Slum dwellers emit the least amount of greenhouse emission but are affected most by climate change. Who were the most affected by Katrina?” she asked the audience.
Tibaijuka explained that governments should introduce flexible reforms to avoid future problems.
“[There is an] opportunity to rethink many of our policies . [but] no one-size-fits-all solution,” she said.
She pushed for slum prevention, in which the world’s urban poor are provided adequate shelter to a minimum standard. Another alternative is the idea of secondary towns.
“You cannot stop urbanization as such, but you can manage it and spread it evenly among secondary towns,” Tibaijuka proposed.
Above all else, she said, local and international governments must find a way to work together to control the continual effects of urbanization.
“We have a responsibility to share as neighbours in the global community,” Tibaijuka said.

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