Human settlement is emerging as a major global threat that requires concerted and strategic interventions. Increasing population, especially in the developing world, is straining physical resources and infrastructure, threatening peaceful coexistence among societies.
In just under a decade, the global population has grown exponentially, leaping from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 7.7 billion. United Nations figures indicate that about half of the population lives in urban centres and that is projected to rise to 68 per cent by 2050. This implies that nations must think about the cities of the future, which will be human settlement hubs.
This week, Kenya hosts the inaugural UN Habitat Assembly, whose thrust is improving human life through innovation. At the centre of the discussion is the growing urbanisation and inherent challenges and how to innovate for proper human settlement.
For Kenya and other developing countries, the challenge is preparing for transition from rural to urban economies. Human settlement comes as a package that comprises access to physical resources such as land and water, and social and economic amenities utilities like power and roads. This has implications for the economy. Governments require huge sums of money to provide the infrastructure to guarantee decent human settlement.
President Kenyatta used the meeting to articulate the government’s master plan on housing, which is part of the ‘Big Four Agenda’ for national growth. In it, the government proposes to provide some 500,000 low-cost housing units by 2020 — an ambitious plan that, if successful, would be transformative.
But there are doubts about this, given the fact that, one, it’s premised on collecting levies from the public, which has been stridently opposed by workers and the general public; and two, the sheer lack of capacity to roll out such a massive project. The economy is depressed and loans are hard to come by, which is a threat to private sector participation in housing development.
Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company, launched last week, is aimed at creating and expanding opportunities for building loans, but is still far from providing the needed solution. Concomitant to this is the level of infrastructure development, including extensive expansion of road and rail networks, power, water and sanitation.
It would be prudent to properly think through the human settlement question. Political goodwill is desirable, but the actual work rests on well-thought out policies and strategies. Beyond the high-end discussions, the conference should help countries to cut the Gordian knot of human settlement woes.