UN environmental chief tells African cities to access funds for sustainable growth

21 September 2006

A senior United Nations official today urged cities across Africa to push harder to access a growing number of global environment funds for financing in areas ranging from sustainable public transport systems to cleaner, less polluting energy supplies.

“An increasing number of cities in the developing countries of Asia and Latin America are starting to introduce modern 21st century rapid bus transit systems, alongside measures to boost safer cycling and walking,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner told the Africities 4 Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

The investments, which are so far benefiting five cities in Latin America, including Mexico City and Panama City, and others underway or in the pipeline in Jakarta and Hanoi in Asia, are being catalyzed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an independent financial organization established in the early 1990s to assist developing countries to achieve sustainable development. Only some weeks ago it was replenished to the tune of just over $3 billion.

In Africa, in terms of sustainable transport projects, only Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania is taking advantage of GEF funding with a rapid bus transit system earmarked there. South Africa is also hoping to use GEF funding to help its cities boost sustainable public transportation for the 2010 World Cup.

“The streets and infrastructure of far too many of Africa’s cities are being overwhelmed by traffic, leading to rising levels of hazardous air pollution and impacts on the economy,” Mr. Steiner said.

“Africa should consider the mistakes made on continents like Europe which indicate that trying to build your way out of the problem by constructing more and more roads can be expensive and deliver only short-term benefits,” he added.

Meanwhile the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change offers a chance to better handle urban wastes, he noted. Gases emitted by big rubbish tips can be used to generate electricity and thus can attract new streams of funding under these carbon credit schemes.

UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka, who is also attending the summit, told journalists that although Africa is faced with the daunting challenge of mushrooming slums, possibly housing “a staggering 72 per cent” of its urban population, there is hope for the continent to move forward and provide adequate shelter for its urban populations.

Ms. Tibaijuka, whose agency is mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities, noted that even the big cities of Europe and America once suffered from the scourge of having many of the inhabitants living in slums.

 

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