By VINCENT NG'ETHE
The housing industry in Kenya is likely to face major changes if a plan seeking to manage the soaring urbanisation, both locally and globally, is adopted this week.
Kenya will join 192 other countries to debate and adopt a plan for cities over the next 20 years at the Habitat III conference, which begins today in Quito, Ecuador.
The plan contains the most far-reaching worldwide recommendations on cities and urban planning ever adopted.
Alioune Badiane, the outgoing director of programmes for UN-Habitat, called it “a new compact for the world” and underscored the inevitability of urbanisation.
“If you are living in a very small village, you may have your kin around you. Kinship can be a very good protector, but if you want to go to the world, the city is the gateway,” he said.
Mr Badiane was speaking on the sidelines of the World Mayors Assembly on Sunday where 300 local and regional leaders met to discuss the adoption of the New Urban Agenda before the formal opening of Habitat III on Monday.
Speaking at the assembly, UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos, who is also the secretary-general of Habitat III, called for "a reinforced dialogue between central and local governments".
Recently, there have been disagreements in Murang'a County over the Northern Water Collector Tunnel project, which the national government has earmarked to improve water supply to Nairobi.
The first Habitat conference was held in 1976 in Vancouver, Canada, on the heels of a series of major world conferences, including the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972.
ROPE IN ALL STAKEHOLDERS
It was prompted by concerns about uncontrolled urbanisation and population growth, and led to the creation of UN Habitat, headquartered in Nairobi.
Twenty years later, in 1996, the second Habitat conference was held in Istanbul, Turkey.
Its two themes were housing for all and the development of sustainable human settlements.
It strongly supported private sector involvement. Governments should “encourage the multiplicity and diversity of interventions by both the public and private sectors and other interested parties, men and women alike, acting within the market system”, a section of the text reads.
However, that 1996 agreement is criticised today for its approach to the private sector.
In fact, the New Urban Agenda, which member states could adopt in Quito, places caveats on private sector involvement and calls for the creation of affordable housing products.
It also calls for regulations to limit speculation on land, and measures to ensure that gains in land value that accrue from public infrastructure projects do not end up solely in private hands.
“We will work to ensure that efforts to generate land-based finance do not result in unsustainable land use and consumption,” the text of the agreement also reads.
According to Mr Badiane, the Kenyan government should "not just allow the housing sector to build houses at their own cost, but should take the matter into their own hands and make policies that will serve wananchi”.
According to the World Cities report, which was published earlier in 2016 by UN Habitat, 54 per cent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas.
In 1969, six years after independence, only about one million people, 10 per cent of Kenya’s population, lived in cities.
In 2014, 13 million people, 42 per cent of Kenya’s population, lived in urban areas, a 300 per cent increase in Kenya's urbanized proportion.
Implementation of the New Urban Agenda will rest on three main strands: urban legislation, financing, and urban planning and design.
Kenya, however, continues to face a shortage of qualified urban planners.
An April 30, 2015 Kenya Gazette notice listed only 185 physical planners registered under the Physical Planners Registration Act that year.
Against Kenya’s population of 44.2 million it means that Kenya had less than one planner for every 100,000 people in 2015.
The same situation was replicated in 2011 in a survey that assessed 12 African countries, indicating that only Nigeria (1), Zimbabwe (2) and South Africa (3) had one planner or more for every 100,000 people.
African countries compared unfavourably with Britain, the US and Australia, which had 37, 12 and 23 planners per 100,000 people, respectively.