he Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) of the United Nations recently charged Nigerians on the need for comprehensive city development and climate action plans to minimise the number of people who live in slums. The Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary-General of the agency, Dr. Kirabo Kacyiri, at the recent inauguration of the National Habitat Committee in Abuja, advocated city development and climate control strategies targeted at examining and designing urbanisation processes to tackle the challenge of poor housing. He noted that even though many people have been moved out of slums globally, many more have moved there.
With Africa’s population estimated at one billion, the charge from UN Habitat is timely and very much in order. Living in slums and blighted communities is a global problem which poses a serious challenge to governments and relevant development agencies worldwide.
It is a particularly taxing issue in Africa and many Asian countries, especially India and China. About 100 million people have been reportedly taken out of slums, mostly in the two Asian countries. In Nigeria and Africa generally, many people have gone into slums in the process of upgrading cities. Today, almost one billion people are reported to live in slums. Here in Nigeria, a staggering number of our people live in inhabitable environments due to a combination of factors that are beyond their control.
Despite the efforts of governments and private developers to provide decent accommodation, there is still a swelling population of people living in ghettos. It has been established over time that there is acute housing deficiency in Nigeria that urgently requires holistic city development and urban renewal initiatives. These are necessary to eliminate slums, which dot almost the nation’s entire urban landscape.
Also, it has become imperative to address issues pertaining to climate change and how it affects implementation of strategies for human settlement and upgrading of squalid communities. This is important to check flooding, erosion and the impact of human activities such as bush burning and deforestation. All of these factors contribute significantly to the degradation of communities. Many Nigerians will continue to live in slums as long as these problems persist.
We urge the federal and state governments to move faster in terms of re-planning and providing basic services in slums. The country needs housing-alleviation programmes that will not be truncated by politicians and civil service bureaucrats through complex documentation and creation of unnecessary bottlenecks. People living in slums need to be liberated through this kind of intervention. Proper planning of cities prevents a lot of factors that lead to squalid habitation. In other words, preventive action and anticipatory mechanisms serve as antidotes to inhuman living circumstances.
Emphasis should also be placed on urban renewal that takes cognizance of issues related to climate change. It is necessary to design climate change action plans and a comprehensive cities’ development blueprint that will cover all parts of the country.
Nigeria, being one of the fastest growing urbanizing countries on the continent and, indeed, in the world, needs to take proactive steps to properly accommodate its increasing population. The critical role of infrastructure cannot be over-flogged because distortions between population and facilities in communities have serious health and social implications.
It is high time the government and individuals took stock and faced squarely the challenges of living in overcrowded and poorly developed neighbourhoods. The unbridled rural-urban migration that fuels the problem deserves urgent attention. If the countryside is made marginally habitable and attractive like many of the cities, the surge towards urban areas and the pressure on the inadequate existing facilities will reduce.
Over the years, too, successive governments have reneged on their promises to provide affordable housing for the citizenry. There is no serious commitment to the fulfillment of the promises other than sloganeering and perpetual shifting of deadlines. The time has come for government to take the housing deficit in the country more seriously. The government has a responsibility to provide decent and affordable housing for the population, particularly for those on the lower rungs of the social ladder.
It has, in the light of present distortions in the provision of public housing, become inevitable for government to consider developing new satellite cities so that the existing crowded towns can be decongested as people move away to new areas. This approach can only be facilitated through a regime of subsidies for construction of houses. This is imperative because most prospective tenants or owner-occupiers cannot afford the cost of houses built by private developers.
In some cases, too, government-owned apartments are so expensive that only the opulent members of the society can afford them. This explains why these houses remain unoccupied for years. Nigeria needs more housing schemes to meet the Millennium Development Goal on housing. Climate control mechanisms should also be factored into whatever strategy is adopted in addressing the critical housing shortfall in the country.
NB: Press Cutting Service
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat