World habitat day 2012: Changing cities, building opportunities

Mayowa Afolabi

There is a paramount need to create opportunity for affordable houses for all and eradication of slums in the context of Nigeria.


The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.

Also, the United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. This year’s World Habitat Day was celebrated on October 1with the theme, ‘Changing Cities, Building Opportunities’. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all, to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.

Now, the goal of UN-HABITAT is clear, which is to ultimately provide adequate shelter for all. The theme for this year’s World Habitat day is succinct and quintessential – Changing cities, Building Opportunity.


Changing Cities?

What underlying factors informed the choice of this theme, you may want to ask? This is because Cities are custodian of great opportunities. Cities and evolving cities across the globe have witnessed massive migrant of people and this experience is bound to continue.

Why? People are in search of greener pastures for things such as higher education, job hunting, business opportunity and many more as every entrepreneur will always highlight and explore business opportunity in a densely populated area.

A compact and well-planned city offers businesses a comparative advantage in terms of competitiveness and employment. Poor and disadvantaged persons living in cities are more likely to be lifted out of poverty than their rural counterparts. Cities capitalize on their economies of agglomeration and scale to deliver opportunities for livelihood generation across all strata of the socio-economic pyramid.

Consulting statistical data as researched by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social affairs, Population Division (2009), under World Urbanization Prospects, revealed that Growth in African countries is concentrated in cities.

Recent growth was phenomenal: in the space of five years, between 2005 and 2010 the three biggest urban increases were Lagos which grew by 1.8 million people, Kinshasa by 1.6 million and Luanda by 1.2 million. In terms of proportional growth, Abuja grew by 51.7 per cent, Ouagadougou by 43.7 per cent, and Luanda by 35.0 per cent. Forty-six African cities now have populations larger than one million inhabitants.

Presently, barely 40 percent of Africans live in cities. But it is projected that by 2025, close to 60 percent Africans will be living in the city.

This statistics is evidenced by the sea of people on the streets of our cities, increased marketing and economic activities, untamed crime rates, environmental degradation and pollution, massive construction of houses as a result of the population explosion, multiplication of slums for people that cannot afford a decent home, and many more.

In fact, it has also been researched that more than 50 percent of Africans live in slums in contrast to the one billion of the entire world population living in slums. Consequently, it can be deduced that 50 percent of the one billion world population living in slums are Africans as Africa presently has a population of about 1 billion people.

Foremost out of many highlights of United Nations Human Settlement Program, UN HABITAT, crusade for changing cities as spear-headed by its ‘I’m a City Changer’ initiative are, because 21st century challenges are in cities, the world population is sporadically growing, need for eradication of slums, etc. Therefore, of utmost importance is the need for the eradication of slums in fulfilling the United Nations adequate housing for all agenda.

Building Opportunities

Cities are custodians of great opportunity!

Skilled and unskilled labours patronage is very high in the cities. There is an ease of business, intellectual capital and innovations, sustainability, technology and infrastructure, economic clout, demographics and quality of lives, ready technology, etc. The prospects in the city are limitless though it comes with its attending counter factors.

As said earlier, of paramount interest is the need to create opportunity for affordable houses for all and eradication of slums in the context of Nigeria. One general way of evaluating house affordability index is by comparing the ratio of prevailing house prices/rents to that of an average income. That is; house prices/rent: income.  When this index is applied to the teeming population of Abuja residents for instance, the shocking discovery will be that very few percentage can afford a house or to rent one.

Therefore, there is a staggering need for the government of the day, who is a member nation that passed the United Nations housing affordability for all agenda, to do more in this regard. If housing policy review can engender the change anticipated and build opportunity for everyone, then there is a need to consider its options and implement the discoveries that can alleviate the suffering of the masses on house affordability issue. For instance, houses can be constructed according to different levels of affordability index.

The private sector stakeholders in the housing construction industry need to keep abreast of these statistics and come through for the suffering masses. The marriage of public and private initiatives in this regard will effect change and build opportunities, thereby, fulfilling the United Nation’s goal of providing adequate housing for all.


**Mayowa Afolabi, Property Consultant, Writer, Conference Speaker, Pastor.


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