We are living in strange times. There is a general mood of disillusionment and pessimism, at least in Europe. In fact, according to the Pew Research Centre, people in Africa, Latin America and Asia are more optimistic that the next generation will have a better life than are Europeans; though interestingly, everywhere people are very concerned about inequality. Could this maybe be partly explained by the fact that the countries of the world have agreed to the most radical programme of action that humanity has ever aspired to and this is more widely known in Africa, Asia and Latin America than in Europe?
As this audience will know, in 2000 for the first time, world leaders agreed to work together to systematically reduce poverty. Their agreement was incorporated in the Millennium Development Goals. And significant progress was made. In 2015 it was agreed to build on that progress and be more ambitious. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) apply across the world not just in developing countries and incorporate the objective of sustainability.
Our governments have committed to achieving the following goals by 2030:
- End extreme poverty
- Have zero hunger
- Secure health and well-being for all
- Achieve quality education for all
- Achieve equality between men and women
- Ensure clean water and sanitation for all
- Secure affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all
There are many more goals, including (Goal 10) the reduction of inequality and very importantly for World Habitat Day – which we are marking here today, Goal 11 which is to create sustainable cities and Most governments concentrate on the needs of the middle and higher income groups and leave the poor to informality. Then when land values grow…brutal forced evictions destroy property and networks of the urban poor. communities worldwide. The indicator against which Goal 11 will be measured is that by 2030 we should ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.
Goal 11 is important for the achievement all the other goals because the poor of the world are urbanising, very fast, particularly in Africa and South Asia. As you know, more than half the world’s population now live in cities. By 2030 it will be 60%. But in developing regions 30% live in slums and informal settlements; in sub-saharan Africa it is 50%. Despite the scale of this challenge, it is not hopeless. The proportion of people living in slums has declined in the last decade. But 880 million people still live in slums and over the next two decades, the urban population of sub-saharan Africa and South Asia is set to double.
Urbanisation of course creates a great opportunity to meet the SDGs: It is easier to provide education, health services, sustainable energy and transport systems to concentrated populations. And slum dwellers tend to be incredibly entrepreneurial and creative, somehow managing to provide for all the needs of their families and run little businesses in the most difficult situations. Given more opportunities these people would create strong economic development in their countries.
In fact the bulk of urban growth in Africa and South Asia is unplanned and informal. Land is not provided, forcing people to squat and build. Services are not provided so the provision of water energy and waste removal are managed informally. When it comes to shelter, most of the urban housing stock is provided by the poor themselves. The best way forward would be for governments to plan ahead for urban growth, allocate land and services and encourage building in an organised system. But most governments concentrate on the needs of the middle and higher income groups and leave the poor to informality. Then when land values grow – as they always do with development- brutal forced evictions destroy property and networks of the urban poor. People are dispersed and their property and livelihoods destroyed but they have to squat again and the problem is not solved.
We have seen in recent years a resurgence of forced evictions for example in Kibera, Nairobi where evictions on the 23 July 2018 destroyed five schools leaving 2000 children with no school and 30,000 people homeless. In Nigeria, Amnesty International found that many of the thousands who were forcibly evicted in 2017 from Otodo Gbame, an informal settlement in Lagos, are still homeless and living in desperate poverty.
Forced evictions are not just brutal and destructive of the property and earning networks of poor people, they also prevent the sustainable development promised by the SDGs. And there is a much better alternative. Over the past decade or so communities in informal settlements have been organising and mapping their settlements. Such work is spearheaded by Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and supported by Cities Alliance, Sweden and I believe Norway. Knowing how many people live where, what services they need and are able to access and how they make their living means it is possible to plan and organise development. For example in Uganda, the European Union and the African Development Bank is supporting the development of a Kampala- Jinja Expressway. This is badly needed to improve communications and overcome terrible congestion within Uganda and across east Africa. But to simply drive the road through would displace tens of thousands of people, destroy markets and cause enormous conflict. In effect the road is blocked. Now Cities Alliance, together with SDI have agreed to negotiate the organised movement of these populations to areas nearby on condition that they have tenure in their new location, that markets are provided and that no one will be worse off. This is a win-win solution for all.
Thus we must conclude that preventing forced evictions is key to well-organized urbanization and to meeting the SDGs. It means bringing the poor and informal dwellers to the table, including them in consultation and developing cities for all. In the past there were monitoring mechanisms against forced evictions run by UN Habitat and international NGOs but they are no more. Cities Alliance is in consultation with UN Habitat, SDI and the government of Sweden is planning to set up a new monitoring mechanism. I hope that Norway might join in supporting this initiative. I had a meeting organised by Eric Berg with a representative of the Norweigian foreign ministry at the Kuala Lumpur World Urban Forum meeting in February to discuss this possibility. The aim of the new mechanism would be to monitor and expose forced evictions but also to offer alternative methods of development.
We are living at a time of opportunity and risk. We have made significant progress. From 2002-12 the percentage of the global population living in extreme poverty dropped from 26 to 13%; that is 1 in 8 worldwide but 40% in sub-saharan Africa. Hunger declined from 15% in 2002 to 11% in 2016 leaving 800 million people hungry. From 1990 to 2015 maternal morbidity nearly halved and child mortality more than halved. Education has improved and gender equality has improved. So, we are living at a crucial time, great progress is possible and if it is not made enormous problems will flow from climate change and other environmental losses; vast numbers of people will be displaced leading to chaos and suffering.