BWIRE: It’s time to address the housing mess in Kenya

BWIRE: It's time to address the housing mess in Kenya

By Victor Bwire

Dysfunctional systems including poor state of public transport, infrastructure, sanitation, water and schools will continue frustrating our quest for building future cities in Kenya. And this explains largely the reluctance by Kenyans to adopt Government plans such as the housing policy for public servants, because many times, public-led programmes either lack or ignore proper planning.

Our cities are facing huge planning challenges, and many are barely able to support a decent life for residents. Because we abandoned planning, we are seeing the growth of cities in the country that have become uncontrolled and ungovernable.

People are reluctant to own houses or permanently reside in cities, because many of them remain insecure, informal and non inclusive, and will take a huge policy shift and way of doing things, to make them attract dwellers.

The manner we are building our cities does flout all known rules including our building codes, green growth policies, the Climate Change Act 2016 and business growth agenda.

It takes a simple thing like a cholera outbreak in a leading executive private facility like the Nairobi Hospital, theft of money in ATMS managed by leading banks in the face of non functional expensive CCTVs or prolonged lack of clean water for residents of cities in Kenya for people to appreciate that proper planning is essential in our urbanization dreams.

That our cities have refused to grow into peoples’ cities is clearly seen on our roads; a number of people working in our major cities leave in the rural areas or outskirts and commute daily.

Interesting that even with Kenya being the host to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the United Nations agency that works to improve lives in cities, towns and communities with huge technical expertise, we have been unable to fully tap the potential and establish model cities for the rest of the world.

While a number of projects are currently underway in Kenya through the UN-Habitat, there is very little to date to show the benefits of hosting such a lucrative UN agency.

And Nairobi will be hosting the first-ever UN-Habitat Assembly on 27th to 31st May 2019 that will bring together nearly 2000 delegates to make decisions and pass resolutions that may lay ground for global action relating to addressing urban challenges and development policies that will ensure countries work together progressively to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.

Since 2016 following the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), member states endorsed the New Urban Agenda thus committing to work differently in the planning, building and managing cities globally.

The five-day global meeting is the world’s highest-level decision-making body of UN Habitat and will provide a forum for delegates from all the 193 members of the UN to discuss ways that cities can overcome challenges and take advantages of opportunities to improve everyone’s lives.

To quote Maimunah Mohd Sharif, United Nations Under Secretary-General and UN Habitat Executive Director, “our cities and towns are expanding at an alarming rate- every week 3 million people move to cities and urban centers looking for work, education and a better life.

The only way we can assure that urbanization becomes sustainable is by encouraging a more plan-led approach to development. We need to plan for and build homes for the increasing numbers of people, ensure that cities do not descend to chaos and more importantly adopt innovative ways and approaches in our urban planning, for well managed cities can help to drive economic growth, progress and innovation.

The Writer works at the Media Council of Kenya.

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